Testosterone and Human Behavior: Hormone Promotes Prosocial Behaviors

Posted by Professor Anna Gray, Updated on January 11th, 2023
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Have you ever thought about what your hormones, such as testosterone or estrogen, are actually doing in your body? They actually are involved in a lot of different processes, probably much more than you think. For example, testosterone plays a significant role in human behavior, especially male human behavior and how men respond to different scenarios in their life. Previously, scientists believed that testosterone heightens aggressive behavior (think steroids and “roid rage”) and reduces prosocial behaviors. But continuous research always seems to change things and brings new (and sometimes confusing!) data to light, and the case is no different here: now it appears that testosterone could actually enhance prosocial behaviors.

Testosterone Fosters Friendly Behavior in Males

Emory University conducted a study on testosterone and social behavior using Mongolian gerbils. They concluded that testosterone may actually have the opposite effect than what was commonly believed. It may be fostering friendly and prosocial behaviors in males. It also allowed the male gerbils to quickly change their responses to certain stimuli, depending on the social situation they were in.

The lead study author, Aubrey Kelly, assistant professor of Psychology at Emory, states, “For what we believe is the first time, we’ve demonstrated that testosterone can directly promote nonsexual, prosocial behavior, in addition to aggression in the same individual. It’s surprising because normally we think of testosterone as increasing sexual behaviors and aggression. But we’ve shown that it can have more nuanced effects, depending on the social context.”

The subjects in this study were Mongolian gerbils who are known to form lasting pair bonds and raise their babies together, instead of the male leaving after the pups are born. The males, like most other male species, exhibit aggression when defending their territory as well as during the mating season. However, they will also be affectionate towards their mate with cuddling once she is pregnant and will protect the young once born.

Testosterone Promotes Cuddling and Prosocial Behaviors

After a male and female formed a mating pair and fell pregnant, the males were injected with testosterone with the hypothesis being that the acute increase in testosterone would dampen the cuddling behavior. However, surprisingly, the males became even more cuddly and prosocial with the female. Professor Kelly described the males as becoming “like ‘super partner’”.

A follow-up experiment was performed and after a week the females were removed from the cage and another male gerbil was introduced. You would expect that the resident male would chase the new one, fight it or try to avoid it. Instead, the males that were injected with testosterone were actually friendly with the new male. Definitely not what one would expect!

However, with another injection of testosterone, this changed very quickly into aggressive behavior towards the intruding gerbil. Kelly explains this with her interpretation: “It appears that testosterone enhances context-appropriate behavior. It seems to play a role in amplifying the tendency to be cuddly and protective or aggressive.” Testosterone seems to help the animals rapidly switch between prosocial and antisocial behaviors as their social world changes.

Further Research Needed Regarding Testosterone and Social Behaviors

Obviously, humans are more complex than gerbils in many ways, especially in terms of behavior and thought capacity but hopefully this type of research will serve as a springboard for future research looking at hormones and social behavior. A neuroscientist at Emory, Richmond Thompson, says that “Our hormones are the same, and the parts of the brain the act upon are eve the same.”

Thompson concludes, “Learning how hormones like testosterone help other animals adjust to rapidly changing social contexts will not only help us understand the biological nuts and bolts that affect their behavior, but also predict and ultimately understand who the same molecules in human brains help shape our own responses to the social world around us.”

You can see how important testosterone is to men (and women!) and even animals. It impacts so many processes in our bodies and this is why it is no joke to mess around with the hormone without a doctor or endocrinologist to guide you. It is simply safer and imperative to get your testosterone from a legitimate source and allow a doctor to oversee your progress, determine your dosage and look out for side effects. And that is what we can do you for. We administer physician-monitored testosterone replacement therapy programs for men suffering from testosterone deficiency. Contact us today if you are interested in getting tested and discussing therapy options. Take control of your health now!



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