Man in Box

Man in Box

Sunday, November 15, 2009

male (but not female) testosterone fluctuates in response to winning or losing dominance contests

Researchers at Duke University and the University of Michigan examined the testosterone levels of students around the time of the 2008 presidential election. Men who voted for John McCain exhibited significant decreases in testosterone upon learning that he lost, whereas the testosterone levels of men who supported Barack Obama were stable. This effect remained even after controlling for political values, intensity of support, alcohol consumption, and social environment. Meanwhile, despite having political feelings similar to men, women exhibited no significant difference in testosterone levels regardless of which candidate they supported. These findings are consistent with earlier research showing that male testosterone fluctuates in response to winning or losing dominance contests.

Stanton, S. et al., “Dominance, Politics, and Physiology: Voters’ Testosterone Changes on the Night of the 2008 United States Presidential Election,” PLoS ONE (October 2009).

summary from the Boston Globe, 15 November 2009.


This study leads me to think of several possibilities:

1. What is the emotional feedback for males that varying levels of testosterone produce? Do males seek dominance contests because of the testosterone effect? Has this been studied? Is there literature on this?

2. I'd like to see more of this sort of study around sports contests. In my self-observation about sports I have come to believe that I 'invest' myself emotionally in the contest. For instance, some years I choose to invest in one team or another in the World Series and other years I choose to "care less." When I do invest myself emotionally in a team I notice that I tend to either feel elated with a win or depressed by a loss. Sometimes I try to talk myself out of the feelings (especially the depressed ones associated to a loss) by telling myself that "it really makes not a wit of difference who wins this game", but my rational self only helps my mood so much. Again, do males tend to seek the dominance contest in the "big game" because we need the testosterone kick? Are we testosterone boost seekers?

3. Is this study a bit of evidence for the proposition that females might be more steady rational leaders around contested issues, such as affairs of state that have the potential for warfare? Are females less likely to enter into dominance contests for what they promise emotionally/chemically? I don't think we have enough evidence yet to confirm this hypothesis, but this study (and others?) are a start.