Men, like women, respond to stress in a myriad of ways. Several factors influence stress response, including biological, physical, and psychological conditions. Testosterone is one such factor that can potentially influence a man’s stress response. Men who are high in dominant traits tend to have high levels of testosterone and thus, this hormone may be a pathway by which to identify a unique risk factor for stress. Although research on dominance has explored testosterone in relation to stress, no study has looked at how testosterone and mood combine to affect stress response in men. Therefore, Samiuele Zilioli of the Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University in Canada chose to conduct a study that looked at this relationship specifically.
For his study, Ziliolo recruited 70 male college students and measured their levels of stress based on cortisol samples prior to exposing them to a demanding video game competition. The men played the video game for 15 minutes and were instructed to try to win. Ziliolo then measured their stress levels after the game to see which men had the most extreme stress responses to the competition. He found that the men who won the game were more likely to experience minimal stress responses if they had high levels of testosterone and high levels of self-confidence prior to playing the game. In contrast, those with low levels of pregame testosterone did not have the same experience and had no cortisol response.
When Ziliolo looked at the men who lost the competition, he found there was a negative association between hostility, testosterone, and postgame cortisol. These results suggest that men who have high levels of testosterone may be primed to exhibit extreme responses to certain situations, especially those involving competition. As winning is important to dominant personalities, this outcome may be especially relevant to men with dominant traits and low self-confidence. Ziliolo notes that this research is limited in that it did not compare the type of stress response in all the men prior to playing the game; and it did not look at a culturally diverse sample of men. “And lastly,” added Ziliolo, “future studies could investigate the same phenomenon in women, shedding light on the complex relationship between biological sex, social environment, and hormonal manifestations.”
Zilioli, S., Watson, N.V. (2013). Winning Isn’t Everything: Mood and Testosterone Regulate the Cortisol Response in Competition. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52582. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052582
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