Science and folklore alike have long suggested that high levels of testosterone can facilitate the sorts of attitudes and behavior that make for, well, a less than ideal male parent.
It has long been known that among humans (and some other species as well), males who cooperate amicably with their female mates in raising and nurturing offspring often have lower testosterone levels than their more aggressive and occasionally grumpy counterparts. But two University of Notre Dame anthropologists are looking beyond the nuclear family for such effects.
Not only spouses, but also other relatives, good friends, colleagues, neighbors and fellow church members can play a role, suggest Lee T. Gettler, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Notre Dame’s Hormones, Health, and Human Behavior Laboratory, and Rahul C. Oka, Ford Family Assistant Professor of Anthropology, in an article forthcoming in the journal Hormones and Behavior.
The new study focuses on a large, representative sample of aging U.S. men and the ways their testosterone varies when they have emotionally supportive relationships.
“Compared to other U.S. men, fathers and married men often have lower testosterone,” Gettler said. “We think this helps them be more nurturing. We are the first to show that this also occurs with other social relationships. Our results show that when older men have emotionally supportive relationships with their siblings, friends, neighbors and coworkers, they also have lower testosterone.”
According to Gettler, “We know that men and women with social support have much better health, overall, while testosterone affects risks for depression, cardiovascular disease, obesity and some cancers. We hope our findings, connecting these two areas, help stimulate new conversations about social support, biology and well-being.
“Most of us have probably seen the TV commercials promoting testosterone as a remedy for symptoms of aging or ‘manopause.’ Our findings suggest that the social side effects of these testosterone supplements in older men should be carefully studied. While testosterone does go down with age, the potential social benefits that can accompany lower testosterone suggest it is not all doom and gloom.”
About this psychobiology research
Source: Michael O. Garvey – University of Notre Dame Image Source: The image is in the public domain Original Research:Abstract for “Aging US males with multiple sources of emotional social support have low testosterone” by Lee T. Gettler and Rahul C. Oka in Hormones and Behavior. Published online October 22 2015 doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.10.003
Aging US males with multiple sources of emotional social support have low testosterone
Among species expressing bi-parental care, males’ testosterone is often low when they cooperate with females to raise offspring. In humans, low testosterone men might have an advantage as nurturant partners and parents because they are less prone to anger and reactive aggression and are more empathetic. However, humans engage in cooperative, supportive relationships beyond the nuclear family, and these prosocial capacities were likely critical to our evolutionary success. Despite the diversity of human prosociality, no prior study has tested whether men’s testosterone is also reduced when they participate in emotionally supportive relationships, beyond partnering and parenting. Here, we draw on testosterone and emotional social support data that were collected from older men (n = 371; mean: 61.2 years of age) enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a US nationally-representative study. Men who reported receiving emotional support from two or more sources had had lower testosterone than men reporting zero support (all p < 0.01). Males with the most support (4 + sources) also had lower testosterone than those with one source of support (p < 0.01). Men who reported emotional support from diverse (kin + non-kin or multiple kin) sources had lower testosterone than those with no support (p < 0.05). Expanding on research on partnering and parenting, our findings are consistent with the notion that low testosterone is downstream of and/or facilitates an array of supportive social relationships. Our results contribute novel insights on the intersections between health, social support, and physiology.
“Aging US males with multiple sources of emotional social support have low testosterone” by Lee T. Gettler and Rahul C. Oka in Hormones and Behavior. Published online October 22 2015 doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.10.003