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0. TESTOSTERONE AND DOMINANCE IN MEN
In men, high levels of endogenous testosterone (T) seem to encourage
behavior apparently intended to dominate -- to enhance one's status
over -- other people.
Sometimes dominant behavior is aggressive, its apparent intent being to
inflict harm on another person, but often dominance is expressed
Sometimes dominant behavior takes the form of antisocial behavior,
including rebellion against authority and law breaking.
Measurement of T at a single point in time, presumably indicative of a
man's basal T level, predicts many of these dominant or antisocial
T not only affects behavior but also responds to it.
The act of competing for dominant status affects male T levels in two
First, T rises in the face of a challenge, as if it were an
anticipatory response to impending competition.
Second, after the competition, T rises in winners and declines in
Thus, there is a reciprocity between T and dominance behavior, each
affecting the other.
We contrast a reciprocal model, in which T level is variable, acting as
both a cause and effect of behavior, with a basal model, in which T
level is assumed to be a persistent trait that influences behavior.
1. DOMINANCE, AGGRESSION, AND ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR
important to distinguish aggressive behavior from dominance
act aggressively if apparent intent is to inflict physical injury on a
member of its species.
act dominantly if apparent intent is to achieve or maintain high
status: to obtain power, influence, or valued prerogatives over a
Rodents typically dominate aggressively, but higher primates don't
our ability to read people's intentions is the very basis for human
sociability (see Gopnik 1993).
managing dominance and subordination without causing physical harm.
domination without aggression: sports, spelling bees, elections,
criticism, competitions for promotion, and academic jousting
aggression without dominance? Infanticide, murder for hire, religious
sacrifice, circumcision and ritual mutilation; euthanasia, surgery and
dentistry; suicide and self flagellation; deliberate collateral
casualties from military attack.
dominant, submissive, aggressive, or nonaggressive
humans often assert dominance without any intent to cause physical
dominating mechanisms would have evolutionary advantage helping to
acquire valued resources, e.g., mates.
not simply a matter of a dominant man taking what he wants: women
regard men who look dominant as attractive
prominent chins, heavy brow ridges, muscular rather than fleshy or
have an easier time finding partners ).
not obvious why there would be selective advantage in aggressiveness
[within a species]
so why do men sometimes dominate with intent to harm?
in schools, prisons, the military, families or work groups, authority
figures require behavior to rigid standards Here dominant individuals
likely to break rules: "antisocial behavior," rebellious or even
attempts to dominate figures in authority (teachers, policemen)
relationship of T not only to dominant and aggressive actions, but also
to antisocial behavior.
2. A PRIMER ON TESTOSTERONE
T is the primary androgen develop and maintain masculine features. made
in adrenal cortex and ovary of females, but far in the testis.
in men is secreted into the bloodstream in spurts, can change
considerably within a few minutes.
Beside its androgenic (masculinizing) effects, T also has anabolic
(protein tissue building) qualities
anabolic steroids used by athletes build muscle mass, reduce fat, and
classic study of hen peck-orders by Allee et al. (1939) injected T
propionate into low-ranking hens. These injected females became
aggressive, and each rose in her status hierarchy, some to the top
position. Furthermore, their comb size increased (a male
characteristic), egg laying was suppressed, some began crowing (rare in
hens), and a few began courting other hens.
man has about one hundred-thousandth gram of T per liter of blood;
women have roughly one-seventh as much
3. TESTOSTERONE WORKS DIFFERENTLY PERINATALLY, AT PUBERTY, AND IN
T affects human males differently at three stages of life: (1) in utero
and shortly after birth, (2) puberty, (3) adulthood
mammalian XX and XY fetus begins with undifferentiated sexual parts. A
gene on the Y causes the asexual gonads to develop as testes; lacking
this gene the gonads become ovaries
sex differentiation thereafter driven by hormones from the sex-specific
production peaks again a month or two after birth, then declines by six
months of age to the low range seen in later childhood.
T causes the external genitalia to form into Male rather than female
Brain is masculinized by T: early exposure to greater amounts of T will
produce more male characteristics (masculinization) and fewer female
characteristics (defeminization), while less exposure to T will produce
even genetic females will show male forms if dosed early enough with T,
and genetic males will show female forms if deprived of the hormone
Perinatal T exposure affects behavior in a number of animal species.
when T is administered to pregnant monkeys, their pseudohermaphroditic
female offspring exhibit male-type rough-and-tumble play
limiting T to the later part of gestation produces female offspring
with male-type play but female appearing genitals
behavioral masculinization is independent of genital masculinization
Early hormone effects organize the architecture of the body and brain.
male T increases later in life activate these preexisting structures
(1) long-term organizational and (2)shorter-term activational effects
group of delinquent boys in an institution for serious youth offenders
was compared with a group of nondelinquent high school students, ages
15 to 17 years: T of delinquents was slightly but not significantly
Boys who committed the most violent crimes had slightly but not
significantly higher T
Ratings of aggressiveness by staff not related to T, nor were
evaluations by a psychiatrist. Only one of five aggression tests
correlated significantly with T.
investigators conclude, relationships between T and their behavioral
and personality variables are small
for the nondelinquent boys, the factors which correlate with T involve
an aggressive response to provocation ("When a teacher criticizes me, I
tend to answer back and protest") as opposed to expressions of
unprovoked aggression ("I fight with other boys at school")
associates T with responses to challenge rather than with
aggressiveness per se
longitudinal method: in boys 12-13 puberty) correlation between T and
sexual activity and T and norm-violating problem behavior (aggression,
dominance, antisocial acts but no correlation at 15/16 years
T affects adolescent behavior mostly through indirect social responses,
elicited by maturation, rather than through direct activation of target
receptors by T in the bloodstream.
T levels peak in late teens and early 20s, then decline slowly
throughout adult life in men
There are similar age trends but the causal connection from hormones to
behavior remains open to question.
fluctuations in T (within the normal range) have little effect on men's
sexual behavior as long as a minimum amount of hormone is present. May
the same be said for T's effect on dominance and aggression?
4. DOMINANCE AND AGGRESSION IN ADULTHOOD
T is not related in any consistent way with aggression measured on
common personality scales.
performance on paper-and-pencil tests not always correlated with actual
no significant T difference between those who fought a lot in prison
and those who did not,
but prisoners with a record of violent and aggressive crimes had
significantly higher T
Overall, considerable evidence that in men circulating T is correlated
with dominant or aggressive behavior, and antisocial norm breaking. But
correlation does not imply causation. Questions remains: Is high T a
cause of dominant and antisocial behavior?
normal young men given increasing doses of T or placebo using a
double-blind, randomized, cross-over design. Tested for "aggressive"
could, by pushing an appropriate button, reduce the cash that would be
paid to his opposite number. made to believe that opposite was indeed
taking this punitive action
significantly more punitive button pushes while receiving T than
treatment of prisoners or patients with castration or chemical androgen
suppressers to control aggression
tells us little more than is known from the long history of
Illegal use of anabolic steroids by young men (and some women) to
improve their athletic performance, aggressiveness, or physical
appearance is widespread.
violent outbursts or "roid rages", psychotic symptoms
users reported major mood syndromes (mania, hypomania, or major
produced diverse mood changes -- positive and negative -- in 20 normal
men, by T at therapeutic doses (far below illicit dosage).
strengthen the claim that anabolic steroids can affect mood in a
pathological way, but the association of such mood changes with
aggressive, dominant, or antisocial behavior remains anecdotal.
anabolic steroids deliberately designed to minimize androgenic
consequences, so their behavioral effects should differ from those of
steroid abusers take amounts that far exceed normal physiological
Overall, available data on illicit anabolic steroid use tell us little
about the effect of T on dominance.
5. RECIPROCAL CAUSATION
primate studies suggest a reciprocity of effects. T affects dominance,
but changes in dominance behavior or in social status cause changes in
T level (Rose et al. 1975)
(1) athletes' T rises shortly before their matches, as if in
anticipation of the competition. This pre-competition boost may make
the individual more willing to take risks, may improve coordination,
cognitive performance, and concentration
(2) for one or two hours after the match, T levels of winners are high
relative to those of losers
associated with the subject's elated mood. If mood elevation is less
because won by luck rather than through own efforts or because winner
does not regard the win as important, then little or no rise in T
in the less vigorous competition of everyday social interaction and
symbolic changes in social status, same pattern of male T responses
during nonphysical contests or ritual status manipulations: chess
matches, laboratory reaction time contests, symbolic challenge from an
insult, sports fans
hormone-depressing effect of status loss
T of officer candidates abnormally low during early degrading weeks of
Officer Candidate School, but returned to normal during relaxed weeks
just prior to graduation.[!]
T of prisoners dropped after admission to a
program modeled after military boot camp
T of medical students rose after graduation when mood was elated.
released hostages from Iran for T raised for 15 months,
T pattern appears in nonphysical as well as physical competition, and
in response to symbolic challenges and status changes among men.
function of the elevated T following a win and drop in T following a
loss not known.
winners may be soon likely to face other challengers. drop in T among
losers may encourage withdrawal from other challenges, thus preventing
6. T IN WOMEN
in women literature is scant and inconsistent
during and after competing with a same-sex partner in a video hormonal
response was different in each sex. Males showed usual pre-contest rise
in T but females did not.
effect of competition on T may be specific to men.
7. DOMINANCE CONTESTS
Does T play a role in daily challenges to status, either from strangers
or from people well known to us?
Like all primates, humans in face-to-face groups form into fairly
consistent dominance/status hierarchies
higher-ranked members have more power, influence, and valued
prerogatives than lower-ranked ones
visualize two individuals (Ego and Alter) meeting for the first time.
If interaction is very brief or casual, the notion of ranking may never
in more extended or serious meetings, each will size up the other and
gain some sense of their relative standings. If Ego thinks that Alter's
status does or should exceed his own, may defer to Alter without
ranks are allocated quickly and cooperatively. If Ego and Alter do not
agree on their relative standings, then they may either break off the
interaction or vie for the contested rank.
Ego's decision to compete or to comply will depend on his motivation to
A man who has experienced a recent rise in T, perhaps from a victory or
a symbolic elevation in status, will be unusually assertive and may
challenge someone of relatively high status.
Nonhuman primates establish and maintain their status hierarchies
through a series of short face-to-face competitions. Some competitions
involve fierce combat; others are mild, as when one animal is obviously
the more powerful and assertive or the other appears fearful. In such
cases, a simple stare by the powerful animal, followed by the fearful
animal's eye aversion or by its yielding something of value (perhaps
food or a sitting place), may suffice.
a psychophysiological mechanism operating across this range of
competition is the manipulation of stress levels.
exchange of threats or attacks is an attempt by each animal to
"outstress" or intimidate the other by inducing fear, anxiety, or other
animal that outstresses adversary is winner.
Ego's stare makes Alter uncomfortable. Alter may then avert his eyes,
thus relieving his discomfort while, in effect, surrendering, or he may
stare back, making Ego uncomfortable in return until finally succumbs
to the discomfort (and the challenger) by averting eyes. The matter
thus settled, the yielder usually avoids further eye contact, though
the winner may occasionally look at the loser as if to verify his
Staring -- the stress-inducing behavior -- is a dominant sign
associated with high status. Eye aversion is a deferential sign
associated with low status.
Within hours of this outcome, the loser experiences a drop in T,
reducing his assertiveness, diminishing his propensity to display the
dominant actions associated with high status, and increasing his
display of such submissive signs as stooped posture, smiling, or eye
aversion Faced with a new dominance encounter, this loser is more
likely than before to retreat or submit.
the winner, experiences the opposite effects: rising T, increased
assertiveness, and a display of dominant signs such as erect posture,
sauntering or striding gait, and direct eye contact with others. May
seek out new dominance encounters and is bolstered to win them.
This feedback between high (or low) T and dominant (or submissive)
demeanor may explain the momentum of strings of triumphs or defeats:
success begets a high T response which begets more dominant behavior
which begets more success.
8. HONOR SUBCULTURES
"culture of honor": when challenged by insults to themselves or their
families, defend self as virtuous warrior or else lose face
hyperalert to possible insults, reacting dominantly -- sometimes
violently -- to speech or actions that might not be perceived as
injurious in other cultures.
there may be a general hypersensitivity to insult in any subculture
that is (or once was) organized around young men who are unconstrained
by traditional community agents of social control, e.g., frontier
communities, gangs, among vagabonds or bohemians, and after breakdowns
in the social fabric following wars or natural disasters.
if a person is assaulted, important, not only in the eyes of opponent
but also in the eyes of "running buddies," to avenge oneself. Otherwise
one risks being "tried" (challenged) or "moved on" by manyothers. must
show one is not someone to be "messed with" or "dissed."
Shows of deference by others can be highly soothing, give a sense of
security, comfort, self-confidence, and self-respect
persistent losers might be hormonally depressed, but most men -- those
with mixed outcomes or better -- should have elevated T.
not all stressors are the same, and social challenges in particular
evoke hormonal responses different from those due to surgery or weight
T reliably rises in the face of competitive challenges, even while
cortisol (the "stress hormone") goes up as well
By adulthood, black males do have significantly higher T levels than
white males, possibly reflecting the higher defensive demands on black
men during young adulthood.
The reciprocal linkage between hormones and behavior suggests that if T
levels among young men in the inner city are heightened by their
constant defensive posture against challenge, then these high hormone
levels in turn encourage further dominance contests. Feedback between
challenge and T may create a vicious circle, sometimes with lethal
9. BASAL VS. RECIPROCAL MODELS: DIVORCE AND MARRIAGE
A basal model: each man's T measurements represent short-term
fluctuations around his characteristic basal level, genetically based,
by adolescence it is constant. reliabilities from r = .50 to .65 are
In a dynamic reciprocal model T and status competition influence one
another, going up or down together. reliability of man's T
measurements from year to year may reflect stable social position
rather than his genetically determined basal level.
Cuurent data cannot decide between the two models (and both could be
T levels are negatively related to marital satisfaction
males with higher T (measured once) less likely to marry and more
likely to divorce (Booth and Dabbs 1993).
among married men, those with higher T 43% more likely to divorce
Once married, higher T men 31% more likely to leave home because of
troubled relationship with wife, 38% more likely to have extramarital
sex, and 13% more likely to report hitting or throwing things at their
spouse, more likely to report a lower quality of marital interaction.
Covaries continuously with T; not limited to men with exceptionally
correlations between T and education, and between T and income, are
significantly negative but small.
Professional and technical workers have lower T than service and
production workers. The unemployed have highest T. no threshold
high T more likely to be arrested, to buy and sell stolen property,
have bad debts, and use a weapon in fights
those who were delinquent as juveniles more likely to commit crimes as
adults if higher in T.
T increases likelihood of exposure to military combat seeking out?
Recognized by officers? antisocial and given combat assignments as
T cause of marital discord or effect?
2,100 male Air Force veterans
T measured right after the divorce is the best predictor,supporting the
men who divorced during study had high T just before and after their
T of men who married during study fell remained low among stably
married men. Thus, T is highly responsive to changes in marital status,
falling with marriage and rising with divorce.
easy interpretation in reciprocal model. Normal marriages secure and
supportive, more free from stress than single life, low cortisol.
Single men more likely to face confrontations and challenges
a divorce is discreet in time but the breakup of a marriage may span
arguments and confrontations rising T, encourages further confrontation
also need basal model to explain why men initially high in T have more
propensity to divorce.
10. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
doubts that circulating T directly affects human aggression -- the
intentional infliction of physical injury.
Rather, high or rising T encourages dominant behavior intended to
achieve or maintain high status
humans usually express dominance nonaggressively.
When subordinates forced to conform to rigid norms, motivated to act
dominantly are likely to do so by breaking these norms or laws. In such
settings, high or rising T encourages rebellious, antisocial, or even
paper-and-pencil self reports not or reliable
more direct indicators or inventories of behavior, studies in prisons
and free settings show significant correlations between T and
dominating behaviors (with or without aggressiveness), and between T
and diverse antisocial or rebellious actions.
correlation between T and dominant or antisocial behavior is well
supported, but heightened T has not been established as the cause
strong correlational and experimental evidence that T responds in
predictable ways both before and after competitions for status. the
pattern of T responses is specific to men.
high or rising T, by encouraging dominant behavior, induces men to
compete for high status. The experience of winning or successfully
defending high rank boosts T, which in turn encourages more dominant
behavior. The experience of losing depresses T, encouraging a switch
from dominant to deferential behavior. explains the momentum associated
with winning or losing streaks.
In "Honor subcultures" young men are hypersensitive to insult, rush to
defend reputations in dominance contests. Challenges pervasive and
elevate T among those who participate in them (unless they are
persistently defeated). Heightened T may in turn encourage more
challenge behavior, producing a vicious circle.
In reciprocal model implies positive feedback between T and dominance;
in basal model, T is stable trait that predicts his behavior. Most
studies cannot distinguish because data are from only one point in
time. Air Force over ten year period. shows T levels fall and remain
low with marriage, and rise with divorce, results favor reciprocal
better explains the propensity for divorce among high T men
both models as viable
association of high T with antisocial behaviors, including marital
disruption and violent criminality, raises puzzle.
negative behaviors foster downward social mobility. Under basal model,
should be accumulation of high T men in lower ranks of society.
correlations between T socioeconomic status (occupation, income,
education) are significantly negative but slight
Apart from "Honour" subculture, little concentration of men with high T
in the lower classes. Why not?
downward flow of high T antisocial men may be nearly balanced by upward
flow of high T prosocial men
so far invisible because past studies used mostly working class men or
nearly uniform distribution of T across social classes less puzzling
under reciprocal model in which T is malleable rather than a stable
dominance contests probably occur nearly as frequently among elites as
in the working class, as often in the boardroom as on the shop floor
hence little accumulation of T at the bottom levels of society.
Need to T and behavior in upper class men with god social opportunities
and strong incentives for prosocial behavior.
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