The more testosterone circulating in your body, the less concerned you are likely to be about what other people think or feel. Psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin discovered this when they analysed word-use in emails and the diary of two testosterone users.
Scientists believe there is a relationship between how you think and the amount of testosterone molecules circulating in your blood. High testosterone means above all more aggression, more focus on status and increased interest in sex. In addition, testosterone boosts preparedness for action, spatial awareness and feelings of wellbeing. For an overview of our postings on the relationship between testosterone and psychology click here.
The American psychologists had the opportunity to measure the relationship between testosterone and thought patterns. They came across a heterosexual 60-year-old man who had been using testosterone since he was 56 to increase his upper-body strength [Case 1], and a 28-year-old transsexual who had changed from being a woman to a man and had been using testosterone since he was 25 [Case 2].
Both subjects injected themselves every 1-4 weeks with testosterone cypionate. For a number of months they recorded when they injected so that the psychologists could estimate how the men’s testosterone levels had fluctuated during that period.
The 60-year-old gave the psychologists access to his emails; the 28-year-old gave them his diary. The psychologists counted the frequency with which the men used words that reflect the psychological effects of testosterone and when they used them. They then calculated whether there was a relationship between word use and testosterone level.
The researchers noticed little in the men’s word use that confirmed scientists’ assertions that there is a link between testosterone and psychological status. When they had high levels of testosterone in their blood the men did not use words significantly more often that would indicate heightened sexual interest, aggression, focus on status, spatial awareness or the conversion of thoughts into action.
Interestingly, the men themselves did think that the relationships were present. They believed that they wrote more often about aggression, sex and dominance when their testosterone levels peaked.
The only convincing effect that the researchers found was that the men used fewer social words when they had high testosterone levels.
The researchers do believe that testosterone has a real effect on “increase task-oriented aggression, status striving, and even the initiation of casual sexual behavior”. Even though their study would seem to indicate the contrary, the evidence from other studies is simply too strong. But the researchers also believe that a high testosterone level results in users shutting themselves off from the outside world. And that, they emphasise, is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Behaviorally, higher testosterone levels may increase task-oriented aggression, status striving, and even the initiation of casual sexual behavior”, they write. “Nevertheless, testosterone may cause people to spend less time considering the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors of others. This finding makes sense if high testosterone levels prompt people to strive for social status. Testosterone can clear the mind and allow people to make decisions that are not colored by social considerations.”
Testosterone as a social inhibitor: two case studies of the effect of testosterone treatment on language.
Pennebaker JW, Groom CJ, Loew D, Dabbs JM.
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
This study aimed to correlate testosterone levels with natural written language in 2 people undergoing testosterone therapy. Two participants, a man receiving treatment for loss of upper-body strength and a female-to-male transgendered individual, supplied records of injections over 1-2 years along with e-mails or journal entries as writing samples. Results showed that higher testosterone levels correlated with reduced use of words related to social connections. Language relating to anger, sexuality, and achievement was unrelated to testosterone levels. It appears that testosterone steers attention away from social connections but not necessarily toward concerns with aggression or sexual activity.
PMID: 14992671 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]