28 September 2018
The effect of playing sport on men’s testosterone levels is well documented.
Generally speaking, the winner enjoys a testosterone boost, while the loser experiences the opposite (though far less studied, competition unsurprisingly also affects women’s hormonal levels, though not in the same ways as men’s).
The evolutionary-based explanation for the hormonal effects seen in men is that the winner’s testosterone rise acts to increase their aggression and the likelihood that they will seek out more contests, while the loser skulks off to lick their wounds.
When it comes to vicarious effects of competition on men’s testosterone, however, the findings are more mixed. There’s some evidence that male sports fans show testosterone gains after seeing their teams win, but other studies have failed to replicate this finding.
A new, small study in Human Nature adds to this literature by examining the hormonal changes (testosterone and cortisol) in fathers watching their children play a football game – a situation in which you might particularly expect to see vicarious hormonal effects since it’s the men’s own kin who are involved.