Science Shows Dominant Behavior and Posture Increase Testosterone
by Jeremy Nicholson, MA, MSW, PhD
As a guy currently interested in improving my own health and endocrine system, I was excited to read Mike’s article on how he went from a natural testosterone level of 0 to 672 in only 8 weeks. As a scientist, I also appreciated his collection of concrete data and blood tests to support his claims. Every source of self-improvement does not provide that level of support for their advice.
Nevertheless, I also understand a bit of skepticism. Mike is an excellent case study, but he might be different or special in some way. As a result, he encourages guys to test things for themselves, rather than take his word alone. Sometimes, though, I think skeptics and naysayers need a bit more motivation to get their butts off the couch.
So, I did what I do on my own Attraction Doctor blog on Psychology Today and looked at the existing research on the topic.
What I found is that the effect of testosterone on behavior is not a one way street. In other words, testosterone does not just influence a man’s behavior to be more dominant (basal model), dominant behavior also increases his testosterone as well (reciprocal model). As explained in a review article by Mazur and Booth (1998):
“This reciprocal model implies feedback between T and dominance, each reinforcing the other. It contrasts with the customary basal model in which an individual’s basal level of T is presumed to be a fairly stable trait that predicts his behavior. Most studies cannot distinguish between the basal and reciprocal models because their data are collected at one point in time. An exception is a study of marital status among 2,100 male Air Force veterans who received four medical examinations over a ten year period. Among these men, T levels fall and remain low with marriage, and rise with divorce, rather than remaining constant. These results, although limited in scope, favor the reciprocal model over the basal model. (p. 362)”
Behavior and testosterone levels influence each other. Raise testosterone and men act more dominant. Act more dominant and it raises testosterone. Therefore, it is absolutely plausible that such behavioral exercises could promote an increase in testosterone.
Still skeptical of the possibility that such experiences can influence testosterone? Other studies show that even vicariously experiencing a win or loss of your favorite sports team changes testosterone levels (Bernhardt, Dabbs, Fielden, & Lutter, 1998).
More of an introverted, intellectual guy? Even a competitive pre-game mindset and a post-game victory increase testosterone levels in chess players (Mazur, Booth, and Dabbs, 1992).
Perhaps the best support for the exercises Mike proposes, however, is a study by Carney, Cuddy, and Yap (2010). The authors looked at the effect that powerful, open postures (compared to powerless, closed postures) might have on neuroendocrine levels. They found:
“The results of this study confirmed our prediction that posing in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.”
Taken together, these results suggest that the testosterone effects of such dominant behaviors, mindsets, and postures can be generalized beyond Mike alone. In short, they have a good shot of working for you (and me) too. Time to dust off my lifting straps…
Beyond that, if behavior can influence testosterone levels significantly as this evidence suggests, then we may have to rethink why men experience low testosterone problems in the first place. Is this strictly caused by physical health issues (obesity, environmental plastics, pollution, etc.)?
Or, does disempowerment and emasculation contribute to this phenomenon as well? If so, “acting like a man” may be more than just a socially-constructed gender option. It may be necessary for men’s mental and physical health.
About the Author:
Jeremy Nicholson is a Social and Personality Psychologist, with a research and writing focus on influence, persuasion, dating, and relationships. He also holds master’s degrees in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Social Work. Dr. Nicholson shares his advice as a dating/relationship expert as The Attraction Doctor on Psychology Today.
• Bernhardt, P.C., Dabbs, J.M., Fielden, J.A., & Lutter, C.D. (1998). Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events. Physiology & Behavior, 65, 59-62.
• Carney, D.R., Cuddy, A.J.C., Yap, A.J. (2010). Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21, 1363-1368.
• Mazur, A., & Booth, A. (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 353-397.
• Mazur, A., Booth, A., & Dabbs, J.M. (1992). Testosterone and chess competition. Social Psychology Quarterly, 55, 70-77.