Nav: Home

Hormone-influenced social strategies shape human social hierarchy, study shows

April 24, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas -- In a game of chicken, the most aggressive players are fueled by testosterone and are more willing to harm others; and while it may be easy to demonize such hawkish behaviors, psychology researchers from The University of Texas at Austin say there is sound evolutionary reason for their existence.

High testosterone levels are associated with competitive, status-seeking social behaviors, whereas low testosterone is thought to encourage more cooperative behaviors. These differing hormone profiles have shaped social hierarchies throughout the course of human evolution, according to researchers.

"Evolutionary analysis suggests that natural selection favors a mixed population," said UT Austin psychology professor Robert Josephs. "Evidence of different social tactics are present across species, from beetles and spiders to salmon and orangutans."

In a study published in Hormones and Behavior, researchers modeled status interactions in a monetary hawk-dove game. Like the chicken game in which two cars drive toward each other and the first to swerve to avoid the crash is dubbed the "chicken," the hawk-dove game allows players to adopt dominant (hawk) or subordinate (dove) strategies, for a monetary pay-off. If one player chooses hawk while the other chooses dove, the hawk receives a 4:1 larger payoff. If both players choose dove, both benefit equally, but moderately 2:2; if both players choose hawk, neither receives a payoff.

"Groups with more than one high-testosterone individual may experience high levels of status conflict that can undermine individual and collective outcomes, whereas groups that are mixed are more likely to form social hierarchies that improve coordination and foster adaptive collective performance," said the study's lead author and UT Austin psychology Ph.D. alumnus Pranjal Mehta, who is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon.

Ninety-eight participants were divided into same sex partners. Saliva samples were taken before and throughout the game to measure testosterone levels as well as the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol, in high levels, has been linked to submissive, avoidant behaviors, whereas in low levels, it has been linked to dominant and aggressive behaviors.

In 10 rounds of play, participants, as a whole, opted for hawk strategies half of the time, a number that did not differ between males and females that further supports the claim that an evenly mixed population of hawks and doves has been favored by evolution. However, participants with higher levels of testosterone chose hawk decisions much more often than those with low-levels. Further, participants whose cortisol increased during the game tended to opt for dove strategies, whereas those whose cortisol decreased made more hawk decisions.

"High-testosterone individuals appear to be more willing to harm others to achieve a desired outcome whereas low-testosterone individuals may experience greater empathy and are more interested in cooperating with others," Mehta said.

Unexpectedly, participants' self-reported satisfaction was positively associated with testosterone levels, but only among participants low in cortisol. This joint influence of testosterone and cortisol is consistent with a burgeoning literature on dual-hormone effects, in which the influence of testosterone is facilitated by low cortisol levels, but blocked by high levels of cortisol.

"Social motives reflected in dominance, deference and the pursuit of status may explain the effect of testosterone on choices in a game of chicken, but we didn't examine these social motives directly," Mehta said. "Future research should measure such motives to understand the psychological mechanisms underlying the hormonal effects we observed."
-end-


University of Texas at Austin

Related Testosterone Articles:

Testosterone makes men less likely to question their impulses
A new study shows that testosterone makes men less likely to realize when they're wrong.
Testosterone treatments may increase cardiac risks
A new JAMA study found a 20 percent increase in arterial plaque among men aged 65 and older who received testosterone replacement therapy for a year,
Benefits of testosterone therapy in older men are mixed
Older men with low testosterone levels showed improved bone density and strength, as well as reduced anemia, after one year of testosterone therapy, according to a new study conducted at Yale and other sites.
Testosterone therapy provides protection against cardiovascular disease in men with low testosterone
Despite the continued controversy surrounding the use of testosterone in men who have testosterone deficiency (hypogonadism), a new study has found that long-term use of testosterone therapy not only improves vigor and vitality, but may reduce the risk of death due to cardiovascular (CV) disease.
Enzyme that digests vitamin A also may regulate testosterone levels
Bco1, an enzyme that metabolizes beta carotene, may play a vital role in testosterone metabolism as well, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Illinois.
'Mean girl' meerkats can make twice as much testosterone as males
Testosterone. It's often lauded as the hormone that makes males bigger, bolder, stronger.
Experts take strong stance on testosterone deficiency and treatment
In an effort to address widespread concerns related to testosterone deficiency (TD) and its treatment with testosterone therapy, a group of international experts has developed a set of resolutions and conclusions to provide clarity for physicians and patients.
Scientists develop recipe for testosterone-producing cells
Researchers led by teams at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Wenzhou Medical University of China have discovered a way to keep adult stem cells that are destined to become testosterone-producing cells multiplying and on track to fulfill their fate, a new study reports.
Testosterone therapy decreases hospital readmissions in older men with low testosterone
A new large-scale population-based study from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston showed for the first time that older men using testosterone therapy were less likely to have complications that require them to go back to the hospital within a month of being discharged than men not using this therapy.
Researchers: Testosterone treatment effective for older men
As men age, their sexual function, vitality and strength can decline, but researchers had not yet established whether testosterone treatment is actually beneficial.

Related Testosterone Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...