And now another reason to be careful which political candidate you vote for. A recent study found that testosterone levels dip in men on the losing side of an election, and researchers suspect that the lowered testosterone levels may persist for four years following the vote.
The study, out of the University of Michigan and Duke University, took place on election night. As the polls came in, researchers asked 183 subjects to chew gum. Then the subjects, both male and female, spit into test tubes so their saliva could be analyzed. The procedure was repeated a few hours after the election and then again 20 minutes later.
The results were dramatic. Those men who voted for McCain had more than a 25 percent testosterone drop after viewing the election results. The male Obama supporters, on the other hand, had stable testosterone levels, in spite of the fact that levels usually drop somewhat at night. Females showed no such hormonal shift, purportedly because they have only small amounts of testosterone.
Previous studies have shown that male testosterone levels rise when playing sports or video games, but the difference here is that the competition was indirect. According to study author Steve Stanton, even participating in a competition vicariously, as in watching election results or viewing a sports game, gets interpreted by the hormonal system as a dominance contest and so it activates hormonal shifts in men. According to researcher Kevin LaBar of the Duke team, politics can affect testosterone in men "just as if they directly engaged head-to-head in a contest for dominance. I wouldn't be surprised if there was an Obama baby bump nine months after the election," he said.
Stanton, meanwhile, points out that the testosterone drop serves an important purpose in nature. When males lose a contest, the loser stands back and drops out of the competition instead of pressing forward, and this may prevent injury. The winner, on the other hand, gets extra impetus to press forward to achieve goals.
It's kind of the body's version of "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." Not only do the losers produce less testosterone, the study found, but they also become significantly more unhappy, submissive, unpleasant and controlled.
Scientists say the results point to the possibility that human biology not only reflects political realities, but also determines them. "Political scientists are starting to recognize the role of biology and more and more research is showing there may be some reciprocal interactions between how elections make one feel, and how feelings can affect political behavior," said Coren Apicella, a Harvard University anthropologist.
So if voting for the winning candidate gives men a testosterone boost, it makes sense that the most aggressive candidate, the one who best positions himself or herself as a winner, would have a leg up. The biological imperative would drive men to affiliate with the candidate they perceive most likely to give them a testosterone boost by "slaying" the other candidates, though the process would be completely unconscious. Thus the decay of electoral campaigns into mudslinging showdowns.
The experts also believe that the same process may be at work in local politics, international issues, and business. After stock market wins, investors have a testosterone boost; when male citizens support a losing local cause, their testosterone levels drop.
It's interesting to note that in surveys asking women what makes a man attractive, success usually ranks near the top. Could this be due to the biological imperative once again, with women unconsciously recognizing that success breeds testosterone, while testosterone breeds success, all of which leads to enhanced likelihood of successful baby-making? And since even vicarious wins breed more testosterone, are male Democrats more attractive to women in years when that party wins, and male Republicans more attractive in red years?
Meanwhile, it would be interesting to repeat the spit in a test-tube experiment now that Massachusetts just elected a Republican senator, probably killing the Democrat-endorsed health care bill.
And finally, a little sympathy for Chicago Cubs fans, who have not seen their team win a championship in over 100 years. That represents a whole bunch of lost testosterone.