Effects of Brief Interactions with Male Experimenters Shortly Before and During the Trier Social Stress Test on Study Participants’ Testosterone Salivary Concentrations
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In the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), participants briefly interact with a research assistant (‘greeter’) prior to the test, and then with two ‘judges’ (a ‘talking judge’ and a ‘timing judge’) during the test. We investigated the effects of the sex of the greeter and sex of the judges on participants’ pre-test and post-test salivary concentrations of testosterone and cortisol.
Study participants were 137 male and 31 female university students, who underwent the TSST in our laboratory.
The TSST was associated with a significant increase in cortisol across male and female participants, and also with an increase in testosterone among male, but not female, participants. Male participants who interacted with a male greeter prior to the TSST had significantly higher pre-test testosterone levels than males who interacted with a female greeter. Moreover, both male and female participants who had a male ‘talking’ judge and a female ‘timing’ judge had significantly greater testosterone increases after the TSST compared to participants who had a female talking judge and a male timing judge, or two female judges. No effects of sex of the greeter or sex of either judge on cortisol levels were found.
The most likely explanation for the effects of male greeters and male talking judges on participants’ testosterone levels is that interacting with these individuals stimulated competitiveness in the participants. This finding contributes to the growing literature documenting adaptive hormonal changes in response to brief social interactions with individuals of the same or the opposite sex and also has methodological implications for studies using the TSST.
KeywordsTestosterone Cortisol Stress Trier social stress test Sex Competition
We thank Amanda Dobbyn, Andrea Henry, Konrad Kubicki, Davide Ponzi, Jonathan Seiden, Alex Voss, Melissa Infosino, Martha Alvarez, Alex Cordover, Sumer Vaid, and Staci Gusakova for their assistance with data collection. We thank James Roney for helpful comments on the manuscript. The authors have full control of all primary data and the University of Chicago played no role in data collection, analysis, and interpretation.
This study was supported by intramural funds from the University of Chicago.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Ethical Approval and Informed Consent
Written informed consent was obtained from all study participants. All experimental procedures were approved by the Social Science Institutional Review Board at the University of Chicago.
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