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Testosterone Affects Gaze Aversion From Angry Faces Outside of Conscious Awareness



Throughout vertebrate phylogeny, testosterone has motivated animals to obtain and maintain social dominance-a fact suggesting that unconscious primordial brain mechanisms are involved in social dominance. In humans, however, the prevailing view is that the neocortex is in control of primordial drives, and testosterone is thought to promote social dominance via conscious feelings of superiority, indefatigability, strength, and anger. Here we show that testosterone administration in humans prolongs dominant staring into the eyes of threatening faces that are viewed outside of awareness, without affecting consciously experienced feelings. These findings reveal that testosterone motivates social dominance in humans in much the same ways that it does in other vertebrates: involuntarily, automatically, and unconsciously.
Psychological Science
23(5) 459 –463
© The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0956797611433336
The notion that individual animals, including humans, pursue
dominant social positions to ensure access to resources and
reproductive advantage is of great scientific and societal inter-
est (Archer, 2006; Bos, Panksepp, Bluthé, & van Honk, 2011;
Eisenegger, Haushofer, & Fehr, 2011; Josephs, Newman,
Brown, & Beer, 2003; Josephs, Sellers, Newman, & Mehta,
2006; Mazur & Booth, 1998). All the way through vertebrate
phylogeny, from reptiles to mammals, the steroid hormone tes-
tosterone has been identified as a driving force for engaging
and prevailing in confrontations for social dominance (Archer,
2006), which underlie the formation of social hierarchies
(Mazur & Booth, 1998). For millions of years, testosterone
evidently has acted on evolutionarily primordial brain mecha-
nisms that motivate animals to increase and maintain social
status and power.
In humans, though, the expanded neocortex is thought to be
in control of primordial drives, and testosterone’s effects on
social behavior are said to have shifted to the promotion of feel-
ings of superiority, strength, anger, and low anxiety. In turn,
these consciously experienced motivational states are said to
direct voluntary control of behavior dealing with social chal-
lenges and threats (Eisenegger et al., 2011; Josephs et al., 2003;
Josephs et al., 2006; Mazur & Booth, 1998). This notion, how-
ever, is currently under debate because it is based on merely
correlational evidence; consequently, one cannot exclude the
possibility that testosterone regulates status-seeking behaviors
in humans unconsciously and automatically without affecting
conscious motivational states (Bos et al., 2011).
In earlier research, we showed that salivary testosterone lev-
els were associated with attentional vigilance to angry faces
(van Honk et al., 1999), and that testosterone administration
increased cardiac reactivity to angry faces (van Honk et al.,
2001). A third study demonstrated that testosterone administra-
tion increases amygdala reactivity to angry (relative to happy)
faces (Hermans, Ramsey, & van Honk, 2008). These findings
converge to suggest that testosterone enhances vigilance toward
social signals of dominance (i.e., angry faces). In these studies,
however, the facial expressions were perceived consciously,
whereas our hypothesis has been that testosterone increases
vigilance, or dominance, primarily through automatic, uncon-
scious mechanisms (van Honk & Schutter, 2007; van Honk,
Schutter, Hermans, & Putman, 2004). Although other research-
ers found correlational support for this hypothesis (Wirth &
Schultheiss, 2007), it has not yet been confirmed with causal
methodology. Here, we report a placebo-controlled study of the
effects of testosterone administration in which we not only used
infrared eye tracking to measure a social-dominance behavior
Corresponding Author:
David Terburg, Utrecht University— Psychonomy, Heidelberglaan 2,
Utrecht, Utrecht 3584 CS, The Netherlands
Testosterone Affects Gaze Aversion From
Angry Faces Outside of
Conscious Awareness
David Terburg1,2, Henk Aarts1, and Jack van Honk1,2
1Department of Psycholog y, Utrecht University, and 2Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town
Throughout vertebrate phylogeny, testosterone has motivated animals to obtain and maintain social dominance—a fact
suggesting that unconscious primordial brain mechanisms are involved in social dominance. In humans, however, the prevailing
view is that the neocortex is in control of primordial drives, and testosterone is thought to promote social dominance via
conscious feelings of superiority, indefatigability, strength, and anger. Here we show that testosterone administration in
humans prolongs dominant staring into the eyes of threatening faces that are viewed outside of awareness, without affecting
consciously experienced feelings. These findings reveal that testosterone motivates social dominance in humans in much the
same ways that it does in other vertebrates: involuntarily, automatically, and unconsciously.
social interaction, neuroendocrinology, facial expressions, eye movements, aggressive behavior
Received 7/20 /11; Revision accepted 11/17/11
Research Report
460 Terburg et al.
that was much more ecologically valid than the measures in our
earlier studies, but also used a backward-masking technique to
ensure that the facial expressions did not reach consciousness.
We administered testosterone and placebo to 20 healthy
volunteers and tested effects on performance on a social-
dominance task, as well as self-reports on a widely used inven-
tory that assesses conscious motivational states of anger, vigor,
fatigue, anxiety, and depression. In the social-dominance task,
faces were presented outside of conscious awareness, and eye
movements were tracked to assess participants’ inclination to
either gaze away from (submission) or endure (dominance)
face-to-face status threats in the form of angry stares (Terburg,
Hooiveld, Aarts, Kenemans, & van Honk, 2011). Thus, we
measured genuine gaze aversion from masked angry faces and
tested the causal role of testosterone in promoting social domi-
nance unconsciously.
Participants and design
Twenty healthy volunteers (age range: 20–25 years) received
sublingual testosterone and placebo in counterbalanced order,
with the two tests separated by 1 week. We exclusively
recruited women using single-phase contraceptives for several
reasons. First, this minimized menstrual-cycle effects on basal
hormone levels. Second, the magnitude and time course of the
neurophysiological effects of testosterone have been estab-
lished only in women (Tuiten et al., 2000). Third, basal testos-
terone levels in females have been shown to correlate with
both aggressive behavior and implicit measures of dominance
(Cashdan, 1995; Dabbs & Hargrove, 1997; Josephs et al.,
2003; Josephs et al., 2006).
Drug samples
Sublingual drug samples consisted of 0.5 mg of testosterone,
5 mg of cyclodextrin (carrier), 5 mg of ethanol, and 0.5 ml of
water. The placebo samples were the same except that testos-
terone was omitted. Sublingual administration of testosterone
induces behavioral and physiological effects, as indexed by
subjective and vaginal arousal to erotic stimuli, that peak after
4 hr (Tuiten et al., 2000). Accordingly, experimental testing
was started 4 hr after drug (and placebo) administration. Note
that this method has been used successfully in more than a
dozen studies on social and emotional aspects of human
behavior (Bos et al., 2011).
Conscious assessment of mood state
Before performing the social-dominance task, participants
completed the Profile of Mood States (Shacham, 1983), a vali-
dated 30-item questionnaire that indexes consciously experi-
enced anger, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and vigor, using
visual analogue scales.
Social-dominance paradigm
The stimuli for the social-dominance task included angry,
happy, and neutral faces of five men and five women. On each
trial, a gray mask with a central fixation point was followed by
a face that was presented in blue, green, or red for 33 ms before
a mask stimulus of the same color; the masks and face had
similar luminance properties. At the bottom of each face and
mask display were three circles; participants were instructed
that when the central stimulus turned from gray to a color, they
should avert their gaze from the central fixation point to the
circle with the corresponding color (see Fig. 1a). The differ-
ence in gaze-aversion latency between angry and happy
expressions in this task is a reliable index of dominance
motives (see Terburg et al., 2011). Facial expressions were
presented in a fixed sequence that was repeated five times
(NxxyNyyxNNyyxNxxyN; N = neutral; x and y = angry and
happy, counterbalanced across the two sessions). This order
ensured that all combinations of successive trial types occurred
equally often, allowing us to analyze trials following a neutral
baseline separately and eliminating trial-by-trial interference
of emotionally conflicting information (Etkin, Egner, Peraza,
Kandel, & Hirsch, 2006; Kunde & Mauer, 2008).
Gaze movements were recorded with a Tobii-1750 eye
tracker (Tobii Technology, Danderyd, Sweden), and gaze-
aversion latency was defined as the time between face onset
and first gaze on the target circle. Latencies more than 3 stan-
dard deviations from an individual’s mean were excluded
Emotion awareness check
At the end of the final session, participants were asked whether
they had seen the emotional expressions during the task. Sub-
sequently, all 30 face stimuli (10 faces × 3 emotions) were
presented again, masked, and participants were instructed to
identify each facial expression as happy, angry, or neutral, in a
forced-choice design.
Mean latencies on angry-face and happy-face trials were
baseline-corrected by subtracting the mean latency on neutral-
face trials and then entered in a 2 (emotion: angry vs. happy) ×
2 (drug condition: testosterone vs. placebo) repeated measures
analysis of variance. The Emotion × Drug Condition interac-
tion was significant, F(1, 19) = 8.84, p = .008, ηp
2 = .32. Post
hoc paired t tests confirmed that after testosterone administra-
tion, t(19) = 3.06, p = .006, but not after placebo, t(19) = −1.33,
p = .201, gaze aversion from angry faces was slower than gaze
aversion from happy faces (see Fig. 1b).
Next, we assessed angry- and happy-face trials that fol-
lowed neutral-face trials separately. This analysis revealed
a main effect of emotion, F(1, 19) = 5.06, p = .037, ηp
2 =
.21, which was explained by the Emotion × Drug Condition
Testosterone Predicts Gaze Aversion 461
interaction, F(1, 19) = 5.74, p = .027, ηp
2 = .23 (see Fig. S1 in
the Supplemental Material available online). Post hoc paired t
tests confirmed that testosterone administration slowed down
gaze aversion from angry faces, t(19) = 2.13, p = .046, and not
from happy faces, t(19) = 0.10, p = .992. In sum, although
slower gaze aversion from angry faces compared with happy
faces can be interpreted as reflecting either dominance or
reduced reward sensitivity (Terburg et al., 2011), this anger-
specific effect confirms that testosterone promotes dominance-
related gaze behavior.
Unconscious Gaze-Aversion Bias (ms)
Gaze Shift
33 ms
Anger Anxiety Depression Fatigue Vigor
Conscious Mood Score
Fig. 1. Illustration of the experimental method and results. In each trial of the social-dominance t ask (a),
participants watched a meaningless gray picture turn blue, green, or red, at which point they were to shift their
gaze downward, as fast as possible, to the circle with the corresponding color. Crucially, during the color transition,
a facial expression was presented too quickly to be consciously perceived; thus, the downward gaze shif t was an
implicit act of gaze aversion from a social signal of reassurance (happy expression), a neutral signal (neutral
expression), or a face-to-face status threat (angry expression, which rendered the gaze shift an unconscious act
of submission; f igure adapted from Terburg, Hooiveld, Aar ts, Kenemans, & van Honk, 2011) . The graphs present
(b) the mean difference in baseline-corrected gaze-aversion latency bet ween angry and happy faces (angry – happy) and
(c) the mean self-reported mood states in the two drug conditions (testosterone vs. placebo). Error bars represent
standard errors of the mean.
462 Terburg et al.
None of the participants reported awareness of the facial
expressions, but 5 scored significantly above chance level on
the awareness check (i.e., > 14 correct; chance level = 10 cor-
rect; binomial test with n = 30, one-tailed α = .05). Crucially,
the effect of testosterone on gaze aversion remained signifi-
cant (tested with one-tailed Wilcoxon signed-ranks tests
because of the small sample size and directed hypotheses) for
both these participants (Z = −2.02, p = .022, n = 5) and those
who were not aware of the facial expressions (Z = −1.70, p =
.044, n = 15).
Finally, there were no effects of drug condition on self-
reported mood states (all ps > .5; see Fig.1c).
Our results show that after testosterone administration, partici-
pants reflexively maintain eye contact when unconsciously
confronted with angry faces. Crucially, this unconscious dis-
play of dominance in face-to-face confrontations (Terburg
et al., 2011) was accompanied by neither increased anger and
vigor nor decreased anxiety, fatigue, or depression. This find-
ing indicates that these consciously experienced motivational
states do not underlie testosterone-induced social-dominance
Slower gaze aversion from angry than from happy faces has
been shown to be independently related to dominance motives
and reduced reward sensitivity (Terburg et al., 2011). On the
basis of these findings taken by themselves, we cannot exclude
the possibility that our results are due to testosterone speeding
up gaze aversion from happy faces. However, testosterone
administration has previously resulted in increased reward sen-
sitivity and appetitive motivation (Hermans et al., 2010; van
Honk, Schutter, Hermans, Putman, Tuiten, & Koppeschaar,
2004), which makes the latter explanation unlikely. Most impor-
tant, the effect of testosterone in the baseline-corrected analysis
was anger-specific, which confirms our hypothesis that testos-
terone specifically induces dominance-related gaze behavior.
Although our drug-administration method generally yields
effects similar to those of endogenous testosterone in females as
well as males (Bos et al., 2011; van Honk & Schutter, 2007),
future research should confirm that the results we obtained are
also observed in males.
These results extend our previous findings on vigilance to
consciously processed angry faces after testosterone adminis-
tration (Hermans et al., 2008; van Honk et al., 2001; van Honk
et al., 1999), by showing that testosterone promotes domi-
nance behavior toward unconsciously perceived angry faces
as well. Our results add to the ongoing debate on whether tes-
tosterone promotes dominance through complex psychologi-
cal mechanisms (Mazur & Booth, 1998) or reflexive biological
mechanisms (van Honk, Schutter, Hermans, & Putman, 2004).
Moreover, we have shown not only that testosterone affects
vigilance to anger, but also that the hormone genuinely pro-
motes social-dominance behavior by restraining gaze aversion
when individuals are confronted with angry eye contact
(Terburg et al., 2011). Although conscious psychological
mechanisms unmistakably play a role in the urge for social
status (Eisenegger et al., 2011; Mazur & Booth, 1998), testos-
terone’s promotion of human social-dominance behavior evi-
dently precedes these higher-order mechanisms. The present
study thus provides compelling evidence that testosterone acts
directly—involuntarily, automatically, and unconsciously—
on social dominance in humans through phylogenetically
ancient pathways shared with other vertebrate species (Archer,
2006; Bos et al., 2011).
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
This research was supported by grants from the Netherlands
Organization for Scientific Research (VICI-453-06-002; Brain &
Cognition 056-24-010) and the Hope-for-Depression Research
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... Only two of the articles reported a significant main effect of "hormone" [117,123]. After the inclusion of a second variable interacting with the "drug" condition, 46% of the manuscripts reached statistical significance [114,118,[120][121][122]126]. ...
... In women, a single administration of exogenous testosterone reduced the general ability to decode emotions when employing only the eye region of facial emotional expressions [123], angry faces [122], or trustworthiness in facial expressions [117]. Furthermore, they maintained attention to angry faces for more time [120], and they paid less attention to fearful faces after testosterone administration [121]. ...
... This tendency to approach angry faces after testosterone administration obtained in the healthy population was also replicated in women with social anxiety disorder [126]. ---Ns -Ns -Bos et al., [117] ---Significant ---Enter et al., [118] --Ns --Hormone x Emotion (p = 0.033) np 2 = 0.05 Goetz et al., [119] Ns -Ns --Ns -Terburg et al., [120] Ns ----Hormone x Emotion (p = 0.008) np 2 = 0.32 van Honk et al., [121] Ns ...
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A topic of interest is the way decoding and interpreting facial emotional expressions can lead to mutual understanding. Facial emotional expression is a basic source of information that guarantees the functioning of other higher cognitive processes (e.g., empathy, cooperativity, prosociali-ty, or decision-making, among others). In this regard, hormones such as oxytocin, cortisol, and/or testosterone have been found to be important in modifying facial emotion processing. In fact, brain structures that participate in facial emotion processing have been shown to be rich in receptors for these hormones. Nonetheless, much of this research has been based on correlational designs. In recent years, a growing number of researchers have tried to carry out controlled laboratory manipulation of these hormones by administering synthetic forms of these hormones. The main objective of this study was to carry out a systematic review of studies that as-sess whether manipulation of these three hormones effectively promotes significant alterations in facial emotional processing. To carry out this review, PRISMA quality criteria for reviews were followed, using the following digital databases: PsycINFO, PubMed, Dialnet, Psicodoc, Web of Knowledge, and the Cochrane Library, and focusing on manuscripts with a robust re-search design (e.g., randomized, single or double blind, and/or placebo-controlled) to increase the value of this systematic review. An initial identification of 6340 abstracts and retrieval of 910 full texts led to the final inclusion of 101 papers that met all the inclusion criteria. Only about 18% of the manuscripts included reported a direct effect of hormone manipulation. In fact, emotional accuracy seemed to be enhanced after oxytocin increases, but it diminished when cortisol and/or testosterone increased. Nonetheless, when emotional valence and participants’ gender were included, hormonal manipulation reached significance (in around 53% of the articles). In fact, these studies offered a heterogenous pattern in the way these hormones altered speed-processing, attention, and memory. This study reinforces the idea that these hormones are important, but not the main modulators of facial emotion processing. As our comprehension of hormonal effects on emotional processing improves, the potential to design good treatments to improve this ability will be greater.
... Specifically, the present results suggest that social status does not indiscriminately increase or decrease competitive behavior; rather, strategic preferences to compete depend on interactions among testosterone and cortisol. Basal testosterone and cortisol levels can be considered biological individual differences (Liening et al., 2010;Mehta et al., 2008;Sellers et al., 2007) that weakly correlate with self-report measures (Grebe et al., 2019;Sundin et al., 2021) and operate largely outside of conscious awareness (Akinola et al., 2016;Josephs et al., 2006;Schultheiss et al., 2005;Terburg et al., 2012). Hence, hormones may be critical to advance theories of hierarchy and competition given the unique role of hormones in influencing behavior beyond standard self-report measures. ...
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... Consumers facing a fear-inducing threat are likely to be risk-averse and adopt self-protective strategies that allow them to avoid harm in the environment and/or the aversive state (Griskevicius et al., 2009;Lee and Andrade, 2011;Lerner and Keltner, 2001;Ö hman and Mineka, 2001;Raghunathan & Pham, 1999). One common strategy that people employ is to consciously avoid contact with stimuli that portend fear (Terburg, Aarts, & van Honk, 2012). In addition, a stream of research argues that feelings can be used as a source of information that influences consumer decision-making. ...
Although consumer stockpiling is a prevalent phenomenon under the threat of a disaster, little is known about its underlying mechanisms. Leveraging consumer interviews, we build a theoretical framework that identifies two major motives for stockpiling: fear and expectations of a supply shortage. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as a viable context, through a global survey across 31 countries and search datasets from Google in the United States and 6 additional countries, we find that: (1) both fear and expectations of a supply shortage lead to stockpiling; (2) the relative prevalence of these motives evolves over the progression of the disaster, with the boost and subsequent reduction in fear being more pronounced than for expectations of a supply shortage; and (3) the impact of a disaster on fear is attenuated when consumers have high trust in the government. These findings can help retail managers and public policymakers to make more informed decisions.
... In addition, males have higher testosterone levels, especially in adolescence. Testosterone can significantly increase the possibility of aggressive behavior in the face of provocation, reduce self-control in provocative situations (Mehta & Beer, 2010), and increase negative emotional response (Terburg et al., 2012). The above factors make males, especially in certain situations (such as provocation), easily affected by negative emotions and decreased self-control, resulting in aggressive behavior. ...
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Since the discovery of pain relieving and rewarding properties of opiates such as morphine or heroin, the human mu-opioid system has been a target for medical research on pain processing and addiction. Indeed, pain and pleasure act mutually inhibitory on each other and the mu-opioid system has been suggested as an underlying common neurobiological mechanism. Recently, research interest extended the role of the endogenous mu-opioid system beyond the hedonic value of pain and pleasure towards human social-emotional behavior. Here we propose a mu-opioid feedback model of social behavior. This model is based upon recent findings of opioid modulation of human social learning, bonding and empathy in relation to affiliative and protective tendencies. Fundamental to the model is that the mu-opioid system reinforces socially affiliative or protective behavior in response to positive and negative social experiences with long-term consequences for social behavior and health. The functional implications for stress, anxiety, depression and attachment behaviors are discussed.
Whether or not testosterone can impair empathy remains unclear in the literature. Given that empathic responses to others’ emotional experiences depend strongly upon top–down controlled mechanisms of attention, here we investigated whether the effects of testosterone administration on pain empathy could be modulated by manipulating attention. We used a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-participant design, in which either testosterone or placebo was administrated in separate sessions. Images depicting painful or nonpainful scenes were presented to induce instant empathic responses. Experiment 1 adopted the pain-judgment and hands-counting tasks to direct attention toward painful or nonpainful aspect of the images, respectively. Experiment 2 employed the pain-rating task to estimate affective and cognitive aspects of pain empathy. When discriminating nonpainful aspects of the images in the hands-counting task, accuracies were lower and empathic late positive potential responses were greater in testosterone sessions than in placebo sessions. This suggested that testosterone enhanced empathic responses to task-irrelevant pain-related features, which interfered with task performance. When providing empathic ratings to the images in the pain-rating task, empathic event-related potentials in the early stage were only observed in the testosterone session. This suggested that testosterone facilitated automatic affective reactivity to others’ pain when elaborately processing empathic stimuli. Nevertheless, when discriminating painful aspects of the images in the pain-judgment task, we did not observe any significant differences between the two sessions. These results demonstrated that testosterone effects on enhancing brain reactivity to empathic stimuli were dependent upon task demands deploying attention allocation. The enhancement likely arose from the altered brain state (e.g., increased vigilance and arousal levels) after testosterone administration, as evidenced by the reduced amplitude of spontaneous α-oscillation recorded before the onset of the images. It expands our understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms that affect empathy, and highlights the role of testosterone.
Testosterone has been suggested to influence individuals' economic decision making, yet the effects of testosterone on economic behavior are not well-understood and existing research is equivocal. In response, in three studies, we examined the extent to which testosterone affected or was associated with several different facets of economic decision making. Study 1 was a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects study examining loss aversion and risk-taking (N = 26), whereas Study 2 was a larger double-blind, placebo-controlled, between-subjects study examining loss aversion and risk-taking behavior (N = 117). As a methodological compliment, Study 3 was a larger correlational design (N = 213) with a highly accurate measure of endogenous testosterone examining a wider range of economic behaviors and trait-like preferences. Broadly, the results of all three studies suggest no consistent relationship between testosterone and financial behavior or preferences. Although there were significant effects in specific cases, these findings did not replicate in other studies or would not remain significant when controlling for family-wise error rate. We consider potential contextual moderators that may determine under what circumstances testosterone affects economic decision making.
According to the organizational-activational hypothesis, organizational effects of testosterone during (prenatal) brain development moderate activational effects of adult testosterone on behavior. Accumulating evidence supports the notion that adolescence is another period during which sex hormones organize the nervous system. Here we investigate how pubertal sex- hormones moderate the activational effects of adult sex-hormones on social cognition in humans. To do so, we recruited a sample of young men (n=507, ∼ 19 years of age) from a longitudinal birth cohort, and investigated if testosterone exposure during adolescence (from 9 to 17 years of age) moderates the relation between current testosterone and brain response to faces in young adulthood, as assessed with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Our results showed that the cumulative exposure to testosterone during adolescence moderated the relation between adult testosterone and both the mean fMRI response and functional connectivity (i.e., node strength). Specifically, in participants with low exposure to testosterone during puberty, we observed a positive relationship between current testosterone and the brain response to faces; this was not the case for participants with medium and high pubertal testosterone. Furthermore, we observed a stronger relationship between the brain response and current testosterone in parts of the angry-face network associated with (vs. without) motion in the eyes region of an observed (angry) face. We speculate that pubertal testosterone modulates the relationship between current testosterone and brain response to social cues carried by the eyes, and signaling a potential threat.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTAccumulating evidence supports the organizational effects of pubertal testosterone, but the body of literature examining these effects on social cognition in humans is in its infancy. With a sample of young men from a longitudinal birth cohort, we showed that the cumulative exposure to testosterone during adolescence moderated the relation between adult testosterone and both the mean BOLD signal change and functional connectivity. Specifically, we observed a positive relationship between adult testosterone and the brain response to faces in participants with low exposure to testosterone during puberty, but not in participants with medium and high pubertal testosterone. Results of further analysis suggest that sensitivity to cues carried by the eyes might underlie the relationship between testosterone and brain response to faces, especially in the context of a potential threat.
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Although animal researchers established the role of testosterone as a 'social hormone' decades ago, the investigation of its causal influence on human social behaviors has only recently begun. Here, we review and discuss recent studies showing the causal effects of testosterone on social interactions in animals and humans, and outline the basic neurobiological mechanisms that might underlie these effects. Based on these recent findings, we argue that the role of testosterone in human social behavior might be best understood in terms of the search for, and maintenance of, social status.
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In primates, dominance/submission relationships are generally automatically and nonaggressively established in face-to-face confrontations. Researchers have argued that this process involves an explicit psychological stress-manipulation mechanism: Striding with a threatening expression, while keeping direct eye contact, outstresses rivals so that they submissively avert their gaze. In contrast, researchers have proposed a reflexive and implicit modulation of face-to-face confrontation in humans, on the basis of evidence that dominant and submissive individuals exhibit vigilant and avoidant responses, respectively, to facial anger in masked emotional Stroop tasks. However, these tasks do not provide an ecologically valid index of gaze behavior. Therefore, we directly measured gaze responses to masked angry, happy, and neutral facial expressions with a saccade-latency paradigm and found that increased dominance traits predict a more prolonged gaze to (or reluctance to avert gaze from) masked anger. Furthermore, greater non-dominance-related reward sensitivity predicts more persistent gaze to masked happiness. These results strongly suggest that implicit and reflexive mechanisms underlie dominant and submissive gaze behavior in face-to-face confrontations.
Recently, it was demonstrated how individuals with high levels of testosterone selectively attend toward angry faces. It was argued that this suggests that high levels of testosterone are associated with an aggressive, dominating personality style. In this study, the authors used a double-blind, placebo-controlled design to examine whether exogenous testosterone would induce cardiac acceleration in response to angry faces. Participants (healthy young women) were exposed to neutral, happy, or angry faces. Administration of a single dosage of testosterone (0.5 mg) induced an accelerative cardiac response to angry faces. It is argued that this effect is due to the encouragement of dominance behavior and the inclination toward aggression. Possible mechanisms behind testosterone-driven changes in behavior are discussed with relevance to steroid-responsive networks in the limbic system that drive and control motivational and physiological aspects of social behavior.
Mazur & Booth's (1998) target article concerns basal and reciprocal relations between testosterone and dominance, and has its roots in Mazur's (1985; 1994) model of primate dominance-submissiveness interactions. Threats are exchanged in these interactions and a psychological stress-manipulation mechanism is suggested to operate, making sure that face-to-face dominance contests are usually resolved without aggression. In this commentary, a recent line of evidence from human research on the relation between testosterone, cortisol, and vigilant (dominant) and avoidant (submissive) responses to threatening faces is discussed. Findings, to a certain extent, converge with Mazur & Booth's theorizing. However, the strongest relations have been found in subliminal exposure conditions, suggesting that biological instead of psychological mechanisms are involved.
The feasibility of using a shorter version of the Profile of Mood States is examined. Eighty-three cancer patients were administered the Profile of Mood States. The scales' internal consistency (coefficient alpha) and the items' face validity were used as criteria for eliminating items. The number of items was reduced from 65 to 37 and the correlation coefficients between the short and original scales were all above .95, indicating the suitability of the short version for estimating the original mood scale scores in this population.
Androgens are often associated with assertive behavior; under what circumstances is this reflected in higher dominance rank? In this study of coresidential college women, androgens (total testosterone, free testosterone, and androstenedione) and estradiol were positively correlated with high self-regard in women (as measured by the degree to which subjects over-ranked themselves in a peer-ranking task) and with infrequent smiling, a behavior that has been associated with dominance in previous studies. Androgens and estradiol were also positively correlated with number of sexual partners. The behaviors engendered by these hormones are often positively correlated with high dominance rank, at least in males. In this population, however, high rank (as judged by peer assessments) was negatively correlated with androgens, particularly androstenedione, and showed a negative trend with estradiol as well. One possible interpretation of these findings is suggested by an evolutionary perspective that sees different routes to status among women who compete for resources directly and women who obtain resources through investing males.
The objective of the study was to determine how testosterone levels, both alone and interacting with age, were associated with criminal behavior and institutional behavior among female prison inmates. Subjects were 87 female inmates in a maximum security state prison. Criminal behavior was scored from court records. Institutional behavior was scored from prison records and interviews with staff members. Testoster-one levels were scored from radioimmunoassay of saliva samples. Product-moment correlations revealed first-order relationships among age, testosterone, criminal behavior, and institutional behavior. Structural equation analysis suggested a causal model in which age leads to lower testosterone, which in turn leads to less violent crime and less aggressive dominance in prison. Testosterone is related to criminal violence and aggressive dominance in prison among women, as has been reported among men. Changes in these behaviors with age are in part explained by a decline in testosterone levels.