Sensitive testosterone detector linked to less aggression

Dec 03, 2010 By Brian Murphy
Elevated aggression within a sample of students included of subtle, “gossipy” styles of indirect aggression

Questionnaire results and DNA samples volunteered by a group of University of Alberta students has broken new ground in the study of aggression. U of A Psychology researcher Peter Hurd was looking at the link between an individual’s sensitivity to testosterone and aggressive behavior.

“I looked at the gene that makes the body's detector to determine if variations in this detector's to the chemical causes people to be more or less aggressive,” said Hurd.

Hurd came across a previously published study in India that found violent criminals had genes that made receptors that were very sensitive to the presence of testosterone, so he decided to conduct a similar experiment with volunteers at the U of A.

“Using survey questions and DNA analysis, we came up with exactly the opposite finding from the study done in India,” explained Hurd. “In our samples, less sensitive genes indicated more aggressive behaviour, perhaps because the bodies of those people wound up producing more testosterone to compensate.”

Hurd said it can be likened to smoke detectors; a less sensitive device requires more smoke in a room than a very sensitive one. Hurd believes that testosterone levels and sensitivity are particularly important during fetal development, particularly since testosterone acts to influence fetal brain development indirectly, through a different receptor after it has been converted to a slightly different chemical. “More or less prenatal testosterone seems to have consequences throughout a person’s entire lifetime.”

Hurd says there seems to be a link between fetal testosterone and social behavior, like aggression, in adults, and that the effects of the variation in sensitivity on the levels of fetal testosterone may explain the effect seen.

Hurd says the varying levels of testosterone sensitivity or exposure seen in the U of A volunteers is not related to extremely aggressive or criminal behavior. “It’s not as though these people were unable to physically control their emotions, it’s much more subtle than that.”

In fact, Hurd says the elevated aggression within this sample of students includes displays of aggression by one person against individuals through use of subtle, “gossipy” styles of indirect aggression. “That kind of subtle could involve getting back at a perceived enemy by talking to others about them behind their back.”

Explore further: Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

More information: Hurd’s research was published in the journal Behavior Genetics.

Related Stories

Men's testosterone levels predict competitiveness

Dec 04, 2006

After a man loses a challenge, whether or not he is willing to get back into the game depends on changes in his testosterone levels, according to new research at The University of Texas at Austin.

Recommended for you

Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

Jan 23, 2015

People have a distinctive way of talking to babies and small children: We speak more slowly, using a sing-song voice, and tend to use cutesy words like "tummy". While we might be inclined to think that we ...

Explainer: What is sexual fluidity?

Jan 23, 2015

Sexual preferences are not set in stone and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation the individual is in. This has been described as sexual fluidity. For example, if someone identifies as heterosexual but th ...

Lucky charms: When are superstitions used most?

Jan 23, 2015

It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see ...

Low-income boys fare worse in wealth's shadow

Jan 22, 2015

Low-income boys fare worse, not better, when they grow up alongside more affluent neighbors, according to new findings from Duke University. In fact, the greater the economic gap between the boys and their neighbors, the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.