Dominance contests are recurrent and widespread causes of stress among mammals. Studies of activation of the stress axis in social defeat – as reflected in levels of adrenal glucocorticoid, cortisol – have generated scattered and sometimes contradictory results, suggesting that biopsychological individual differences might play an important mediating role, at least in humans. In the context of a larger study of the regulation of endocrine responses to competition, we evaluated the notion that mood states, such as self-assurance and hostility, may influence cortisol reactivity to dominance cues via an interplay with baseline testosterone, considered as a potential marker of individual differences in dominance. Seventy healthy male university students (mean age 20.02, range 18–26) provided saliva samples before and after competing for fifteen minutes on a rigged computer task. After a winner was determined, all participants were assessed on their mood states through a standardized psychometric instrument (PANAS-X). Among winners of a rigged videogame competition, we found a significant interaction between testosterone and self-assurance in relation to post-competition cortisol. Specifically, self-assurance was associated with lower post-competition cortisol in subjects with high baseline testosterone levels, but no such relationship was observed in subjects with lower baseline testosterone levels. In losers of the competition no interaction effect between basal testosterone and hostility was observed. However, in this subgroup a significant negative relationship between basal testosterone and post-competition cortisol was evident. Overall, these findings provide initial support for the novel hypothesis that biological motivational predispositions (i.e. basal testosterone) and state (i.e. mood changes) may interact in regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation after a social contest.
Zilioli S, Watson NV (2013) Winning Isn't Everything: Mood and Testosterone Regulate the Cortisol Response in Competition. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52582. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052582
Winning Isn't Everything: Mood and Testosterone Regulate the Cortisol Response in Competition
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