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The causal effect of testosterone on men’s competitive behavior is moderated by basal cortisol and cues to an opponent’s status: Evidence for a context-dependent dual hormone hypothesis

Knight, E; Morales, PJ; Christian, CB; Prasad, S; Harbaugh, WT; Mehta, PH; Mayr, U; (2019) The causal effect of testosterone on men’s competitive behavior is moderated by basal cortisol and cues to an opponent’s status: Evidence for a context-dependent dual hormone hypothesis. psyarxiv Green open access

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Abstract

Testosterone has been theorized to direct status-seeking behaviors, including competitive behavior. However, most human studies to date have adopted correlational designs, and findings across studies are inconsistent. This experiment (n = 115) pharmacologically manipulated men’s testosterone levels prior to a mixed-gender math competition and examined basal cortisol (a hormone implicated in stress and social avoidance) and context cues related to an opponent’s perceived status (an opponent’s gender or a win/loss in a prior competition) as factors that may moderate testosterone’s impact on competitive behavior. We test and find support for the hypothesis that testosterone given to low-cortisol men evokes status-seeking behavior, whereas testosterone given to high-cortisol men evokes status-loss avoidance. In the initial rounds of competition, testosterone’s influence on competitive decisions depended on basal cortisol and opponent gender. After providing opponent-specific win-lose feedback, testosterone’s influence on decisions to re-enter competitions depended on basal cortisol and this objective cue to status, not gender. Compared to placebo, men given exogenous testosterone who were low in basal cortisol showed an increased tendency to compete against male and high-status opponents relative to female and low-status opponents (status-seeking). Men given exogenous testosterone who were high in basal cortisol showed the opposite pattern - an increased tendency to compete against female and low-status opponents relative to male and high-status opponents (status-loss avoidance). These results provide support for a context-dependent dual hormone hypothesis: Testosterone flexibly directs men’s competitive behavior contingent on basal cortisol levels and cues that signal an opponent’s status.

Type: Working / discussion paper
Title: The causal effect of testosterone on men’s competitive behavior is moderated by basal cortisol and cues to an opponent’s status: Evidence for a context-dependent dual hormone hypothesis
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.31234/osf.io/y4hfu
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Keywords: Social and Behavioral Sciences, Social and Personality Psychology, Achievement and Status
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10141073
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