(Gorilla Shrewdness #1)
As most of you know, I apply the scientific method to my self-improvement, whether that is in the gym, in relationships, or building this website. I formulate a hypothesis. I collect raw data. Whether it’s blood work measuring my testosterone level or a DEXA scan, I share this data with you to see whether my results can work for you.
But I don’t really go digging through the research to validate what I do. By my own admission, my experiments could be attacked on grounds that, “anecdotal evidence is anecdotal.” My approach serves my purpose to get you guys actionable information that I have used myself and I believe can work for you. However, I know some of you also like more scientific theory and research support as well.
That is why I was pleased to meet Dr. Jeremy Nicholson. Some of you may have already seen his article here on D&P about the science behind posture and mindset increasing testosterone, or have been to his Attraction Doctor blog on Psychology Today.
For those who don’t know, Dr. Jeremy is a Social/Personality Psychologist who focuses on dating and relationships, as well as social influence. He is also interested in all kinds of self-improvement for men (that’s how we connected). Dr. Jeremy takes the complementary approach to what I do in his advice though – he starts with scientific theory and research. He looks at principles, concepts, and experimental results. He uses that as a foundation to provide solutions to people for dating and relationships, self-improvement, and business too.
Despite our different approaches, we seem to meet in the middle over common goals and interests. So, I invited him to what may be the first of many round table discussions. A discussion between professional, masculine men. A meeting of fellow “Gorillas”…Gorilla Shrewdness.
Our first round table discussion will cover the biofeedback that occurs between your HTPA and the rest of your body.
A reader asks:
“I’m curious though why doing these exercises boosts your testosterone more than just a normal kind of workout? Like squats or normal dead lifts or whatever? Is it mainly because of the posture?”
Here are my thoughts, Dr. Jeremy. Tell me what you think.
In evolution, “Space is status.” There is a lot of research showing that a decline of status is associated with depression and other negative life outcomes. As animals, we are horrified of losing space.
Loss aversion is explained by the first principle that, “Space is status.” (Loss aversion is a principle from behavioral economics. Experiments have shown that people fear losses far more than they value gains. As the saying goes, “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”)
As animals, the amount of space we occupy determines whether we live or die. A lion who loses space is going to be kicked out of the pride or he will be killed by new challengers.
The end of an alpha leaves a bloody mess.
My theory is that our body is hardwired to release a hormones relative to our status.
Indeed, as this excellent TED talk shows, my theory is becoming accepted by visionary thinkers.
If we are low status, then our body will not want to release testosterone, as it may cause us to engage in acts that challenge the alpha male – acts that could get us killed.
Our Hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis (HPTA) can sense when we are high status or low status based on our body posture. When we are taking up more space, our body releases testosterone. When we take up less space, our bodies release more cortisol.
Dr. Jeremy Says:
Mike…you bring up a number of good points.
Much of what you suggest has been supported for 30 years or more by research on primates (including us humans).
For example, in 1985 Mazer published an article discussing how biology, behavior, and social status interact in primate groups. The summary of that paper says:
“This paper describes a biosocial model of status in face-to-face groups. It argues that status ranks are allocated among members of a group through face-to-face interaction and that the allocation process is similar across each primate species, including humans. Every member of a group signifies its rank through physical or vocal demeanor. For example, behavioral signs of dominant status include erect posture, glares, eye contact, strutting, and (in humans) assertive speech. Individuals whose behaviors exhibit dominance show high or rising levels of testosterone compared to those who exhibit deference. Testosterone and dominance are reciprocally related. The model relies more on research on males than on females. It is proposed as a theory about both sexes, but with a caution that little is known about sex differences in the relation of hormones to dominance behavior.”
Essentially then, dominant behaviors, status/power in a social group, and testosterone levels all reciprocally influence one another.
To get back to the readers question more directly though, there is certainly a benefit of any type of anabolic exercise on endocrine function. I believe that the postural exercises that Mike suggests may have added benefit in two ways:
1) Good posture itself may have an effect. Having an open, upright, and relaxed posture may simply help the body function overall. At the least, such postures can promote relaxation, which decreases stress/cortisol and can therefore increase testosterone. A study by Carney, Cuddy, and Yap (2010), which I mentioned in the article about the science of posture and testosterone, did find a reduction in cortisol for participants who posed in powerful postures. Therefore, the effect Mike is getting with these exercises may be some kind of structural alignment or even relaxation response type of phenomenon.
2) Dominant body language also has a reciprocal relationship with emotions. For example, when we are happy, we smile. BUT, if we force ourselves to hold a smile, we will also become happier (Zajonc, Murphy, & Inglehart, 1989). In much the same way as a smile affects mood, powerful body language may also be helping to create positive emotions and an assertive mindset. In support of that idea, the study I cited above by Carney, Cuddy, and Yap (2010) also found that participants striking high power postures felt significantly more powerful and in charge, compared to low power posturing peers, and were also more focused on rewards.
Such psychological states, in turn, may relate to other neuroendocrine changes. Thus, we may also be seeing a “fake it until you make it” type effect on mindset and emotion, leading to greater testosterone production as well.
In either case, the main benefit of such postures is that they can be done routinely/constantly. Practicing such body language and mindset can result in them being chronically activated. Therefore, rather than getting a temporary increase from a workout or a victory, such exercises may allow for regulation of testosterone over a longer time frame. After all, the research I discussed in the science of posture and testosterone article, about changes in testosterone levels in men during marriage and divorce, seems to indicate longer-term effects on testosterone due to psychological and social changes (Mazur & Booth, 1998).
In short then, the added benefit of these exercises may come from the fact that they help to relax the body, promote good behavioral habits, and/or improve mindset and emotions – in order to better regulate testosterone levels over the long term. In other words, this is not simply “performing an exercise”, but rather developing the habit of functioning in a physiologically and psychologically powerful and masculine way.
Of course, all of this is an educated hypothesis, based on the results of other studies. Additional testing would be necessary to tease apart a more specific “why” among all of these reciprocal relationships. Mike’s personal results, however, certainly serve as a good case study to support that these longer-term effects are taking place by at least one of these paths…if not more.
If you enjoyed the post, leave a comment below. What do you want to see next?
• 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.
• Mazer, A. (1985). A biosocial model of status in face-to-face primate groups. Social Forces, 64, 377-402.
• Mazur, A., & Booth, A. (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 353-397.
• Zajonc, R. B., Murphy, S. T. & Inglehart, M. (1989). Feeling and facial efference: Implications for the vascular theory of emotion. Psychological Review, 96, 395-416.