The Social Endocrinology of Dominance: Hormones, Brain, and Behavior



Testosterone plays a role in aggressive and dominant behaviors, but the mechanisms remain unclear. The current research investigated neuroendocrine and neural mechanisms of the testosterone-behavior relation. Study 1 examined the neural mechanisms for the relation between testosterone and aggressive decision-making. In a decision-making paradigm in which people choose between aggression and monetary reward (the Ultimatum Game), testosterone was associated with increased aggression following social provocation (rejecting unfair offers). This testosterone-behavior relation was explained by reduced activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, a region implicated in self-regulation and impulse control. Studies 2 and 3 tested the hypothesis that testosterone's relation to dominance behavior depends on cortisol, a hormone associated with stress and social avoidance. In the domains of competition (Study 2) and leadership (Study 3), testosterone was positively related to dominance behavior only when cortisol was low, not when cortisol was high. A fourth study extended this pattern to the domain of risk-taking. Taken together, these studies provide novel insights into the mechanisms for testosterone's influence on human social behavior; the findings suggest that (a) testosterone alters functioning in self-regulation and impulse control systems (orbitofrontal cortex), and (b) testosterone interacts with the stress hormone cortisol to influence behavior and social decision-making.
Professor Mehta’s research focuses on social conflict, leadership, and economic decision-making. He uses theories and approaches from the behavioral and social sciences, behavioral endocrinology (hormones), and social neuroscience (functional brain imaging). His research provides unique insights into how our biological systems (e.g., testosterone levels) and the environment work together to influence social behavior (e.g., aggression, cooperation, competitive behavior) and decision-making (e.g., financial decisions, risk-taking). Professor Mehta teaches the Managerial Negotiations course.
Contact information:
Dr. S. Puntoni