Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Testosterone and emotion
What is the role of testosterone in emotion?
Testosterone; is this the hormone that incontrovertibly dictates the phenomena of male criminality? And a pair of striated deltoids the size of small boulders? And an immeasurable and unquenchable libido? And a hairy, barrelled chest?
In humans, testosterone is an androgen produced in the testes of males and the ovaries of females, and smaller amounts are produced in the adrenal glands (Bassil, Alkaade & Morley, 2009). Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, which controls the development of the male reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics, such as muscle, bone and androgenic hair growth (Bassil et al., 2009). It is produced in much larger quantities in males, but is important in the health of both men and women (Bassil et al., 2009). In females, natural production of testosterone assists in ovary function, and helps with bone strength and sexual desire (Bassil et al., 2009). Basic observational understanding of the hormone was achieved in the mid 1800s during the self-injection of a dog and guinea pig testicle formula (Hoberman & Yesalis, 1995). It was not until 1935 however, that the hormone was chemically isolated and synthesized (Hoberman & Yesalis, 1995). This led to the development of anabolic androgenic steroids, oil and water based compounds with a similar chemical structure to testosterone that after ingestion mimic its effects on the human body (Hoberman & Yesalis, 1995). These effects include increased muscle and bone density and appetite, but due to excessive use may also include undesirable side effects such as acne and oily skin, thinning and loss of hair among those predisposed to premature balding, increased blood pressure, liver damage, gynecomastia and an increased risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease (Barrett-Connor, 1995). Testosterone compounds are still administered today by medical professionals for those that suffer from hypogonadism, as well as the scholarly disputed condition of andropause (or simply those that exhibit the symptoms) and generally individuals possessing low levels of circulating testosterone below the normal range (Miner, Canty, & Shabsigh, 2008).
The earliest attempts towards understanding the phenomenon of human emotion date back to the prodigious civilisations of Ancient Greece and Ancient China (Schwarz, 1990). For hundreds upon hundreds of years, philosophers, and now psychologists, sociologists and neurologists have conceptualised a number of diverse theories and conducted large bodies of research across a range of scientific disciplines in order to understand the underlying psychophysiological, biological, neurological, sociological and cognitive processes involved in human emotion (Cacioppo & Gardner, 1999). It is also understood that human emotion is involved in the concepts of personality, temperament and mood, and is a fundamental element of differing levels of human motivation (Cacioppo & Gardner, 1999). There are considerably more types of emotions than those that readily come to mind, and in keeping with the following context of this chapter, one may take note of aggression related emotions, not limited to; anger, hostility, hatred and rage, and negative affects such as depression, grief, sadness and apathy (Scherer, 2005). Human emotion can be defined as a biological, neurological, psychological and sociological conscious experience of physical and mental arousal resulting in observable psychophysiological behaviours (Cacioppo & Gardner, 1999).
This chapter is designed to be an informative self-help guide towards understanding the complex relationship of testosterone and emotion. The most important issue regarding this relationship is the decrease in testosterone levels in aging males and females and identifying the corresponding effects and solutions, all of which will be further explicated.
Aggression & other effects on males
Testosterone in males is commonly associated with the behaviours, dispositions and emotions of aggression (Ramirez & Andreu, 2006). The challenge hypothesis describes the positive relationship between levels of respective testosterone in circulation and instances of aggression across different species of birds, lizards and in chimpanzees (Archer, 2006). When fertile females are nearby, chimpanzees, the most genetically similar species to humans, demonstrate notably high levels of testosterone in circulation, and are concomitantly much more hostile and aggressive when interacting with other males during the formation of their territories and the guarding of their mates (Archer, 2006).
Despite the fact the challenge hypothesis has been observed across more than 60 different species, the positive relationship in humans, that is, testosterone levels during male-male interactions around ovulating females, is significantly weaker (Archer, 2006). There is little scientific consensus regarding the cause of the weak positive relationship, however, it may be due (but not limited) to the many different categories, classifications and dimensions of aggression in humans that have been identified - some of which are restricted to human interactions only and are not observed in other species (Archer, 2006). For example, the dichotomy of emotional aggression usually out of retaliation (hostility, anger, rage etc.) or of predatory, objective aggression both observed frequently in many species, but the latter significantly less frequently in humans (Ramirez & Andreu, 2006). There are also other confounding factors such as whether the aggression is verbal, physical or even if it is furtive and involves social exploitation as observed in relational aggression, all of which complicate the study of aggressive emotions and respective levels of testosterone in humans (Ramirez & Andreu, 2006).
Researchers converge on the sweeping notion that the role of testosterone in aggression related emotions has been established, however, more studies in relation to human interactions need to be undertaken.
Androgen Replacement Therapy
Have you ever heard of the term 'man-opause?' Also known as andropause, male menopause, androgen decline in the aging male (ADAM), partial androgen deficiency in the aging male (PADAM), and male climacteric (Shabsigh, 2003). It describes the phenomenon of correlational effects in aging men and the respective gradual decline of testosterone levels in circulation, of which apparently resemble some of the physical and psychological effects of menopause in women (Shabsigh, 2003). These symptoms observed in men include; loss of energy, nervousness, depressed mood (not clinical depression) and/or mood swings, impaired memory and difficulty concentrating, decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, decreased muscle mass and strength, increased fat mass, diabetes, frailty, osteopenia, and osteoporosis (Hijazi & Cunningham, 2005). It is evident that the role of testosterone in this context is much more complicated and plausibly impacts more than just the aforementioned changes in affect or emotion.
According to Hijazi and Cunningham (2005), many studies regarding testosterone deficiency not associated with aging have found that androgen replacement therapy, that is, the administration of testosterone via injection, oral tablets or transdermal patches, resulted in positive effects, not limited to the improvement of depressed mood and general sense of well-being (as well as the improvement of the aforementioned symptoms). Morley (2007), and Shabsigh (2003), emphasise the effects of low levels of testosterone and androgen replacement therapy for aging males, as well as diet and exercise. They also note, however, the serious possibility of exacerbating prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and the usual side effects of testosterone administration previously outlined in the overview. Cunningham & Hijazi (2005) conclude that while the administration of testosterone results in positive effects, the benefits-to-risks ratio of androgen replacement therapy are unknown. Thus, further studies regarding the role of androgen replacement therapy and the positive and negative effects, beyond that related to emotion and mood, need to be undertaken.
U-shape association of testosterone to emotion
In concordance with a review of the literature conducted by Booth, Johnson, Granger, Crouter and McHale (2003), there are numerous studies linking testosterone in adults to antisocial behavior, health-risk behaviour, and generally poor outcomes of mental and physical health. In particular, it was noted that individual differences in the circulating testosterone levels of men are associated with dominance (Mazur & Booth, 1998, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003), feelings and emotions related to aggression (Archer, 1991, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003), feelings and emotions associated with depression (Mazur & Lamb, 1980, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003), violent crime and antisocial personality disorder (Dabs & Morris, 1990 as cited in Booth, et al., 2003).
Higher levels of circulating testosterone in adolescent boys are related to a tendency to respond to threats with violence, demonstrable evidence of retaliatory emotional aggression (Olweus, Mattsson, Schalling, & Low, 1980, 1988, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003), an observable pattern of dominating peer relationships (Tremblay et al., 1998, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003), and a higher frequency of sexual activity (Halpern, Udry, & Suchindran, 1998, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003).
Adolescent girls with higher levels of circulating testosterone tend to report more feelings and emotions associated with depression (Angold, Costello, Erkanli, & Worthman, 1999, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003), tend to have a preference for more masculine types of recreational behaviours, more interest in sexual activity during adolescence (Udry, 1988, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003), and to be more resistant to efforts encouraging femininity (Udry, 2000, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003).
Feelings and emotions that are usually associated with a depressive mood state are rarely focused upon in regards to the effects of testosterone in humans (Booth et al., 2003). Medical studies suggest that the administration of testosterone to adult males with low levels (some below the normal range) of circulating testosterone resulted in reports of "feeling elevated" and a general sense of relief from the depressive symptoms (Wang, et al., 1996, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003). Another study of adult males confirmed the U-shaped association between feelings and emotions related to depressed mood states and testosterone, through the conclusion that men with low levels and men with high levels reported more of these symptoms, as opposed to men with normal levels (Booth, et al., 1999, as cited in Booth, et al, 2003).
Another two analyses of a large sample of adult males provide further insight regarding the U-shaped associations between testosterone levels and feelings and emotions associated with depression and aggression, as well as general health outcomes and drug use (Booth, Johnson, & Granger, 1999, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003). The reports of feelings and emotions associated with depression and aggression were far more prevalent for men with either high or low levels of testosterone (Booth, Johnson, & Granger, 1999, as cited in Booth, et al., 2003). It should be noted, however, that the majority of these studies do not control for confounding social variables.
In the emotions and lives of females
It would seem that the bulk of the academic literature concerning the effects of testosterone, the principal male sex hormone, is more focused on males than females. Healy (1998) briefly touched on the perceived differences between the sexes in capacities for anger due to males possessing higher levels of testosterone. She notes, however, that women express the emotion of anger differently to men, usually verbally or passively or as seen in relational aggression.
The time of menopause seems to be the most documented facet of the lives of females in which significantly changing hormone levels, including testosterone, result in a wide range of effects (Davison, Bell, Donath, Montalto, & Davis, 2005). Specifically, circulating levels of testosterone in women gradually decline during and after menopause, and this is chiefly associated with a loss of libido and plausibly some of the aforementioned effects that characterise andropause, (though, these currently have mixed conclusions in academe) such as feelings and emotions associated with depressive mood states, memory impairment and difficulty concentrating, skin thinning, osteopenia and osteoporosis (Davison, et al., 2005; Ornat, et al., 2012). In order to avoid painting the hormone of testosterone as some kind of "wonder drug" or "fountain of youth hormone", it should also be noted that some of these previously mentioned symptoms are controlled for by other variables associated with aging.
The following two health and menopause related websites provide further information:
- Menopause.org (low libido and testosterone therapy)
- Health.howstuffworks.com (testosterone and menopause)
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