Men are more likely to feel threatened by female bosses and will act more assertively towards them, a study has found.

The study, led by Ekaterina Netchaeva, an assistant professor of management and technology at Bocconi University in Milan, took 76 college students from the USA and told them that they had to negotiate a starting salary in a computer exercise with either a male or female hiring manager.

While the exercise was ongoing, words would pop up on the computer screen for a fraction of a second. Following the negotiations, the students took an implicit threat test to guess what words appeared briefly on the screen. Those who guessed words such as "fear" or "risk" were deemed threatened.

Male participants who negotiated with a female showed more signs of being threatened, yet pushed for a higher salary than the men who were negotiating with male managers – an average of $49,400 compared to $42,870.

For the female participants however, the gender of the manager didn't have any influence, yet they negotiated a lower salary than those of the opposite sex – an average of $41,346.

Another experiment, as part of the same study published by Society for Personality and Social Psychology, saw 68 male students asked to split a $10,000 prize with a male or female team member or supervisor. They were happy to split the money evenly with male and female team members but tried to keep more money to themselves when asked to split it with a female supervisor compared to their male counterparts.

Netchaeva said: "The concept of masculinity is becoming more elusive in society as gender roles blur, with more women taking management positions and becoming the major breadwinners for their families.

"Even men who support gender equality may see these advances as a threat to their masculinity, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.

She added that overly assertive attitudes by men towards their female supervisors is detrimental to the workplace dynamic.

"In an ideal world, men and organizations would be concerned by these findings and adjust their behaviour accordingly. But if they don't, where does that leave women? Given the strong societal norms surrounding masculinity, it may be difficult for men to recognize or change their behaviour."