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Testosterone Promotes 'Cuddling' Behaviour And Not Just Aggression: Insights From New Study

Adaptability is greatly influenced by hormonal systems. Increased reactivity to sexual and aggressive stimuli is a side effect of testosterone (T). T's influence on prosocial and nonsexual behaviour and also across good social circumstances is unexplained.

A new study has looked at how T affects male Mongolian gerbils' (a small rodent) prosocial behaviour in a variety of settings. The study found that T's effects are dependent on social context.

Dr Bianca Jones Marlin, an assistant professor of cell research at Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute who was not involved in the study, told a medical news agency that it is extremely important to explain how neuromodulators that we canonically put into categories like "love hormone" or "aggression hormone" interact to optimise how we see the world.

This new study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and the research was conducted by neuroscientists at Emory University. Take a look at the details of the study. [1]

Role Of Testosterone

Testosterone is a predominantly male hormone that is essential for regulating sex differentiation, creating male sex characteristics, spermatogenesis and fertility in men. [2]

According to the study's lead author and Emory assistant professor of psychology Aubrey Kelly, "for the first time, we've established that testosterone can directly increase nonsexual, prosocial conduct, in addition to aggression, in the same individual." This comes as a surprise because testosterone is commonly associated with a rise in aggressive and sexual tendencies. However, our research shows that its impacts can be more complicated than previously thought.

About The Study

The Mongolian gerbil is a monogamous species that stays with the same partner for life. For the experiment, scientists rounded up a total of 28 gerbils, 14 males and 14 females of mature age.

The researchers observed the gerbils' behaviour after pairing them together and injecting the male gerbils with testosterone or a saline solution as a placebo.

Injecting gerbils with testosterone led to more "cuddly" behaviour 30 minutes later compared to the gerbils injected with a saline solution.

They further found that T has also increased nonsexual good or prosocial behaviours toward female partners, as they did not observe any anger or 'foot-stomping,' which is generally displayed when a female is sexually receptive.

When associating with their spouses, male gerbils injected with testosterone showed greater brain activity for oxytocin than males injected with saline.

A week later, the researchers removed the females from the cages and examined how the males responded when presented with a male invader.

Male gerbils, upon encountering an intruder, typically flee from or chase after the invader. Scientists observed that male gerbils given testosterone injections became more sociable.

When injected with a second dosage of testosterone, however, they abruptly became more aggressive.

How Testosterone Influences Behaviour

Researchers in the study suspected that testosterone might increase the likelihood of whatever actions might be more likely to occur in particular circumstances. The hormone has the potential to intensify the expression of whichever emotional response is most warranted in any particular circumstance.

They hypothesised that the men's elevated testosterone levels during their intimate interactions with their partners contributed to an immediate increase in positive social responses toward their partners and primed the men to act more prosocially in the future, despite the fact that they were now in the company of another man. They were initially passive, but the second injection of testosterone quickly drove them to become aggressive, as would be expected of a male intruder.

"It seems that testosterone improves context-appropriate conduct," Kelly explains. It appears to contribute to an individual's propensity toward either increased warmth and protectiveness or increased hostility.

Testosterone And Oxytocin

Both testosterone and oxytocin are present in males and females, however, the prior is in increased amounts in men while the latter is more in females. They are both the primary hormones in both genders and help in their growth and development. [3]

The biochemical connection between testosterone and oxytocin was also investigated in the present study. The results demonstrated that when compared to males who did not receive testosterone injections, those who received the T hormones did show increased oxytocin activity in their brains during interactions with a partner.

To Conclude

According to the researchers of the study, humans share the same hormones and the same regions of the brain are affected by them. As a result, our ability to predict and comprehend how the same molecules in human brains help shape our responses to the social environment can be improved by studying how hormones like testosterone help other animals adjust to quickly changing social circumstances.

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