Social neuroendocrinology of competition
Carré, Justin M.
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The relationship between testosterone concentrations and aggressive behaviour in studies of people has produced very inconsistent findings. However, one consistent fmding that has emerged is that competitive and aggressive interactions potentiate testosterone release in both human and non-human species. It has been argued that socially-induced alterations in testosterone concentrations may function to influence ongoing and/or future social behaviour. Nonetheless, few studies have empirically tested this hypothesis. The current series of experiments was designed to address the extent to which competitioninduced fluctuations in testosterone concentrations were associated with ongoing and/or subsequent social behaviour. In Study 1, men (n = 38) provided saliva samples prior to, and at the conclusion of, the Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP). Although baseline testosterone concentrations were not related to aggressive behaviour, there was a positive correlation between change in testosterone and aggressive behaviour such that men who were most aggressive on the PSAP demonstrated the largest increase in testosterone concentrations. Furthermore, a rise in testosterone during the PSAP predicted willingness to choose a subsequent competitive task. In Study 2, men and women provided saliva samples prior to and after competing against a same-sex opponent on the Number Tracing Task (NTT). The outcome of the competition was rigged such that half of the individuals won most of the races, while the other half lost most of the races, thus experimentally creating a winner and loser in the laboratory. Following the competitive interaction, men and women played the PSAP with their same-sex partner. Results indicated that men selected the aggressive response (but not reward or protection responses), more frequently than women. For men assigned to the loss condition, an increase in testosterone concentrations in response to the NTT predicted subsequent aggressive behaviour. For men assigned to the win condition, an increase in testosterone concentrations in response to the NTT predicted subsequent aggressive behaviour, but only among those men who scored high on trait dominance. Change in testosterone and trait dominance did not predict aggressive behaviour in women. In Study 3, men provided saliva samples prior to, during, and at the end of the PSAP. They were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions that differed in the extent to which they were provoked and whether they received reward for behaving aggressively (i.e., stealing points). Results indicated that baseline testosterone concentrations did not correlate with aggression in any of the experimental conditions. Consistent with Study 1, there was a positive correlation between change in testosterone and aggressive behaviour among men who were provoked, but did not receive reward for aggression (i.e., reactive condition). Men who were provoked but did not receive reward for aggression enjoyed the task the most and were more likely to choose the competitive versus non-competitive task relative to men assigned to the other experimental conditions. Also, individual differences in aggressive behaviour among these men were positively correlated with the extent to which they enjoyed the task. Together, these studies indicate that testosterone dynamics within the context of competition influence subsequent competitive and aggressive behaviours in humans and that testosterone may be a marker of the intrinsically rewarding nature of costly aggressive behaviour.