For some time, the role of testosterone in males has been pondered over. This hormone, produced by the testicles (and a small amount in the ovaries by women) has long been linked with a variety of male-typical behaviors and characteristics.
As you can expect, the answer surrounding testosterone and male behaviors is most certainly not a straightforward one. But before testosterone comes under the spotlight, it’s worth pointing out that the effects of any hormones on human behavior can be questioned until you’re blue in the face.
At first glance, the effects of testosterone are often associated with bodybuilders or cheating athletes – Their sole aim to either build muscle mass, boost their energy levels and/or confidence. This “male hormone” also has huge links to sex drive, and generally, a perception of all-round ‘manliness’.
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During fetal development, levels of sex steroids become the differentiating factor between the sexes. While women do have a small amount of testosterone in their make-up, the Y chromosome in males triggers a response in the testes to produce the hormone from the very beginning. In doing so, both the body and mind start to suppress female-typical development – instead, forming in a male-typical direction.
But what’s the significance of testosterone? Well, without it its intervention during development, all babies would be formed alongside nature’s default sex – female. Which also answers the common question of ‘why do men have nipples?’ You’re welcome.
Although fetal development is the first stage of testosterone’s impact, its second wave during puberty is far more apparent. When sexual maturity peaks in a man’s teens (to late 30s), higher levels of testosterone are seen, resulting in a deeper voice, facial hair and other hormonal changes including the occurrence of morning erections.
Testosterone’s effects on behavior
While researchers have always looked to animals for comparisons in hormones, behavior and the effects of castration, the role of the sex hormones in men versus women has been a little more complicated.
Despite these studies reviewing testosterone and aggression in animals, studies in humans have returned weak results. Testosterone levels aren’t consistent in anyone, making its effects more difficult to measure. Their levels can rise and fall all the time, according to a variety of factors including health, age and even time of day (higher in the mornings, hello morning hard-ons!).
So, does testosterone cause aggression? And what other psychological effects can testosterone have?
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For some time, the links between testosterone, mood and aggression have been the focus of researchers. Despite testosterone’s association with aggression or anti-social behaviour, studies have suggested it instead enhances a desire to obtain a high social status.
If aggression or perception of territoriality does come into play, research into animals and testosterone have made comparisons to men’s football – in particular, home games and testosterone surges at the thought of ‘protecting’ home territory.
The study goes on to suggest that an increase in testosterone when defending their home ground improved home player ability – increasing player motivation, reaction time and confidence. When you think about it, it becomes quite obvious. If you’ve ever attended a home game, the atmosphere alone and crowd support can encourage a team to improve their performance.
The role of testosterone in males
Testosterone is an incredibly important male hormone, for a number of reasons. Around seven weeks after conception testosterone begins helping male genitals to form. So, as men transition from childhood to adulthood, testosterone levels can spike and fall, spurring hair growth, a deeper voice, muscle gain and surges of energy.
The body’s system for controlling testosterone sends messages via hormones and chemicals that get released into a man’s bloodstream. In the brain, the hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland how much testosterone is required, before the information is relayed to the testicles.
Researchers continue to question testosterone’s role in personality traits – including aggression and mood – although it is somewhat inconclusive. However, T levels have been linked to a spark of competitiveness and self-esteem.
During puberty, T levels rise and alongside these physical changes comes a growing sexual desire. In contrast, a man with lower levels of testosterone may feel his libido dropping and experience symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
Typically, sexual desire is higher in men than in women, with testosterone accounting for this difference.
But it’s not just a man’s libido that T levels impact, as testosterone also impacts the regulation of metabolic functions and maintenance of bone and muscle, according to studies.
After around the age of 30, testosterone levels decrease slightly each year. These changes should be gradual, so if you do notice a sudden change, it’s probably best you visit your GP.
Although testosterone is a clear divider between men and women (think male strength in sport, muscle mass and so on), like any hormone, it can impact mood and personality.
The relationship between testosterone and human behavior remains very much a topic for discussion, with comparisons quickly made between animal behavior and humans.
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