Testosterone's effect on physiological and behavioral responses to threat
MetadataShow full item record
Across three studies, the role that testosterone plays in how individuals respond psychologically, behaviorally, and physiologically to status challenges was investigated. Preliminary Studies 1 focused on how testosterone related to physiological and psychological responses to a medical threat. Preliminary 2 replicated the psychological effects observed in Preliminary Study 1. Study 3 examined how experimentally manipulated testosterone levels corresponded to responses to a socially judged physical endurance task across all three response types. Preliminary Study 1 examined the relationship between testosterone and conscious evaluations of and physiological reactions to a health threat. Participants were diagnosed with a fictitious enzyme deficiency before rating their views of the deficiency, as well as providing saliva samples before and after diagnosis. Basal testosterone was negatively associated with the belief that one actually had the deficiency, despite the diagnosis. Testosterone was also positively associated with a greater increase in salivary cortisol levels following the diagnosis. Self-reported anxiety was found to be positively associated with evaluating the deficiency as threatening. Preliminary Study 2 replicated the findings observed in Preliminary Study 1 regarding conscious evaluations of a medical threat. Using the same experimental manipulation, testosterone was again found to be negatively associated with ratings of the enzyme deficiency. In Preliminary Study 2, high levels of testosterone were associated with viewing the deficiency as less serious and viewing medical conditions, in general, as less threatening. Study 3 used a transdermal administration procedure to artificially elevate individuals’ testosterone levels before completing a socially evaluated task. Participants who received the testosterone administration showed greater physiological responses to the task, including cardiovascular responses and cortisol responses, compared to the placebo group. Unlike Preliminary Studies 1 and 2, Study 3 did not show any effect of testosterone on conscious evaluations of the task nor behavioral measures of performance. Taken together, the three studies highlight the different ways in which testosterone is related to responding to social threats. Testosterone appears to be associated with mobilizing physiological systems to theoretically facilitate behavioral responses to status threats. Testosterone also appears to be negatively associated with consciously evaluating certain types of threats.