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Horm Behav. 2001 Nov;40(3):396-402.

Sensation seeking and hormones in men and women: exploring the link.

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  • 1Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA.


Risky behaviors (e.g., binge drinking, drunk driving, risky sex) are increasing among U.S. college students, and the personality trait of sensation seeking provides a potential link between such norm-breaking behaviors and biological processes. We examined the relationship between sensation-seeking behaviors and two hormones, testosterone and cortisol, in male and female college students. Hormone levels were hypothesized to contribute to the variability of individual scores on Zuckerman's Sensation-Seeking Scale. As expected, males scored higher on the scale than females, but the data failed to support the generally accepted positive relationship between testosterone and sensation seeking for either sex. Instead, our results support the existence of a significant inverse relationship between cortisol and sensation seeking in men, but not in women, even after adjustment for testosterone levels and age. Our study contributes to the current literature by (a) supporting the association between risky behavior and a hormone other than testosterone, (b) being the first to examine the association between cortisol and sensation seeking in women, and (c) identifying a possible effect of gender on the association between hormones and sensation-seeking behaviors. Gendered social norms and expectations are likely to be partly responsible for this effect. Theory-guided interdisciplinary research is needed to improve understanding of the biological influences on human behavior, and special attention must be paid to social context, women's perceptions of their expected behavior, and gendered socialization regarding norm-breaking or risky behaviors, which may obscure biological links to female behavior.

Copyright 2001 Academic Press.

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