Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Can Dual Hormones Ever Duel? Neuroendocrine Interactions during Social Exclusion

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Can Dual Hormones Ever Duel? Neuroendocrine Interactions during Social Exclusion

Article excerpt

The function of emotion is often viewed as a guide to the selection of appropriate behavioral responses. Moreover, it has been convincingly argued that emotions exist to focus attention on those aspects of the environment that are most salient to navigating a complex situation effectively (Campbell, 2005). Neuroendocrine responses (including hormonal changes in testosterone and cortisol) underlie these emotional states, focus attention, and likely alter behavioral tendencies (see Nelson, 2011, or Buss, 2005 for overviews).

Relatively little is known about how characteristics of perpetrators influence neuroendocrine responses to exclusionary behavior. This research serves to extend previous work in this area which has found that testosterone levels fluctuate depending on whether men believe they are working with others who were either similar or dissimilar to themselves (DeSoto, Hitlan, Doel & McAdams, 2010). Using previously unanalyzed data from the same data set, the current report extends the work above and addresses how testosterone relates to other neuroendocrine guides to behavior. Does the relationship between social cues and cortisol differ as a function of individual differences in baseline testosterone levels?

Previous research has shown that testosterone levels increase when interacting with highly similar others and decrease when interacting with highly dissimilar others; such differences likely have broader implications for intergroup relations through their ability to affect action tendencies (DeSoto et al., 2010; Mehta, Wuehrmann, & Josephs, 2009). Testosterone level may be a variable that reflects individual differences in dominance seeking (see for example Archer, 2004; Olweus, Mattison, Schalling & Low, 1988). The current report conceptualizes interacting with unknown, dissimilar others as representing the kind of situation that could be stressful and depending on the nature of the interaction, could escalate to violence. The current report measures the responsiveness of the Hypothlamic-Pituitary- Adrenal (HPA) axis along with measures of testosterone.

Decades of research have provided significant support for the idea that HPA activation, and the resultant cortisol increases, suppress testosterone's effects on behavior (Smith, Syms, Negt, Lerner & Norris, 1985; Tilbrook, Turner & Clark, 2000). Recent research has offered support for the idea that a low level of cortisol is necessary for testosterone to increase aggressive tendencies and that high cortisol levels actually can block the testosterone-dominance connection (Popma et al., 2007; Mehta & Josephs, 2010). Thus, testosterone and cortisol may be viewed as potentially somewhat antagonistic, in effect offering competing messages with respect to social aggression.

Importance of group membership

Clearly, the most adaptive response to a stressor should depend on salient social and /or environmental cues. Conceptually, responses can be thought as threat versus challenge. "Threat responses" are suggested to emanate when situational demands (e.g., fear, uncertainty and overall risk) are potentially greater than one's personal resources (e.g., skills and abilities) for dealing with such demands; whereas, a less threatening "challenge response" will occur when personal resources for dealing with a stressful situation are greater than those required by the situation and when there is a potential for personal benefit. In contrast to challenge situations, threat situations are closely related to increased activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis and the release of cortisol (Blascovich & Berry-Mendes, 2000; Blaskovich & Tomaka, 1996; Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004).

Of particular import for the current research, threat response patterns seem especially likely to emerge when interacting with others who are believed to be highly dissimilar to oneself (Blaskovich, Berry-Mendes, & Seerly, 2003). …

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