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Behav Brain Sci. 1998 Jun;21(3):353-63; discussion 363-97.

Testosterone and dominance in men.

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  • 1Public Affairs Program, Syracuse University, NY 13244, USA.


In men, high levels of endogenous testosterone (T) seem to encourage behavior intended to dominate--to enhance one's status over--other people. Sometimes dominant behavior is aggressive, its apparent intent being to inflict harm on another person, but often dominance is expressed nonaggressively. Sometimes dominant behavior takes the form of antisocial behavior, including rebellion against authority and low breaking. Measurement of T at a single point in time, presumably indicative of a man's basal T level, predicts many of these dominant or antisocial behaviors. T not only affects behavior but also responds to it. The act of competing for dominant status affects male T levels in two ways. First, T rises in the face of a challenge, as if it were an anticipatory response to impending competition. Second, after the competition, T rises in winners and declines in losers. Thus, there is a reciprocity between T and dominance behavior, each affecting the other. We contrast a reciprocal model, in which T level is variable, acting as both a cause and effect of behavior, with a basal model, in which T level is assumed to be a persistent trait that influences behavior. An unusual data set on Air Force veterans, in which data were collected four times over a decade, enables us to compare the basal and reciprocal models as explanations for the relationship between T and divorce. We discuss sociological implications of these models.

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