Androgen responsiveness to competition in humans: the role of cognitive variables
Gonçalo A Oliveira,1 Rui F Oliveira1,2
1Unidade de Investigação em Eco-Etologia, ISPA – Instituto Universitário, Lisbon, Portugal; 2Champalimaud Neuroscience Program, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Oeiras, Portugal
Abstract: Although androgens are commonly seen as male sex hormones, it has been established over the years that in both sexes, androgens also respond to social challenges. To explain the socially driven changes in androgens, two theoretical models have been proposed: the biosocial model and the challenge hypothesis. These models are typically seen as partly overlapping; however, they generate different predictions that are clarified here. In humans, sports competition and nonmetabolic competitive tasks have been used in the laboratory setting, as a proxy for agonistic interactions in animals. The results reviewed here show that the testosterone (T) response to competition in humans is highly variable – the studies present postcompetition T levels and changes in T that depend on the contest outcome and that cannot be predicted by the current theoretical models. These conflicting results bring to the foreground the importance of considering cognitive factors that could moderate the androgen response to competition. Among these variables, we elect cognitive appraisal and its components as a key candidate modulating factor. It is known that T also modulates the cognitive processes that are relevant to performance in competition. In this article, we reviewed the evidence arising from studies investigating the effect of administering exogenous T and compare those results with the findings from studies that measured endogenous T levels. Finally, we summarized the importance of also considering the interaction between androgens and other hormones, such as cortisol, when investigating the social modulation of T, as proposed by the dual-hormone hypothesis.
Keywords: testosterone, challenge hypothesis, biosocial model, cognitive appraisal, cortisol
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