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Biol Psychiatry. 2005 Aug 1;58(3):218-25.

Testosterone reduces unconscious fear but not consciously experienced anxiety: implications for the disorders of fear and anxiety.

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Helmholtz Research Institute, Affective Neuroscience Section, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, 3585 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands.



The fear-reducing properties of testosterone have been firmly established in animals but not in humans. However, human data on the relation between testosterone, fear, and anxiety have predominantly involved questionnaires that index cortically executed conscious appraisal of anxious mood. Animal studies, on the other hand, indicate that the effects of testosterone on motivation and emotion are of subcortical origin and of unconscious nature. Presently, it was hypothesized that a single testosterone administration to humans would reduce unconscious fear but not consciously experienced anxiety.


In a placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover design, a single dose of testosterone (.5 mg) or placebo was administered to 16 healthy female volunteers. Afterward, a masked emotional Stroop task measured unconscious emotional responses to fearful faces, while multiple self-reports of mood indexed consciously experienced anxiety.


As hypothesized, the habitual vigilant emotional response to the masked fearful face observed in the placebo condition was significantly reduced after testosterone was administered, while the self-reported measures of anxiety remained unaffected.


These data provide the first direct evidence for fear-reducing properties of testosterone in humans. Furthermore, by dissociating specific aspects of fear and anxiety in humans, this outcome highlights that testosterone's effects on motivation and emotion concern the subcortical affective pathways of the brain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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