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Winning Isn't Everything: Mood and Testosterone Regulate the Cortisol Response in Competition

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      Abstract

      Dominance contests are recurrent and widespread causes of stress among mammals. Studies of activation of the stress axis in social defeat – as reflected in levels of adrenal glucocorticoid, cortisol – have generated scattered and sometimes contradictory results, suggesting that biopsychological individual differences might play an important mediating role, at least in humans. In the context of a larger study of the regulation of endocrine responses to competition, we evaluated the notion that mood states, such as self-assurance and hostility, may influence cortisol reactivity to dominance cues via an interplay with baseline testosterone, considered as a potential marker of individual differences in dominance. Seventy healthy male university students (mean age 20.02, range 18–26) provided saliva samples before and after competing for fifteen minutes on a rigged computer task. After a winner was determined, all participants were assessed on their mood states through a standardized psychometric instrument (PANAS-X). Among winners of a rigged videogame competition, we found a significant interaction between testosterone and self-assurance in relation to post-competition cortisol. Specifically, self-assurance was associated with lower post-competition cortisol in subjects with high baseline testosterone levels, but no such relationship was observed in subjects with lower baseline testosterone levels. In losers of the competition no interaction effect between basal testosterone and hostility was observed. However, in this subgroup a significant negative relationship between basal testosterone and post-competition cortisol was evident. Overall, these findings provide initial support for the novel hypothesis that biological motivational predispositions (i.e. basal testosterone) and state (i.e. mood changes) may interact in regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation after a social contest.

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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            Behavioral Endocrinology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
            University of Washington, United States of America
            Author notes

            Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

            Conceived and designed the experiments: SZ NVW. Performed the experiments: SZ. Analyzed the data: SZ. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: NVW. Wrote the paper: SZ NVW.

            Contributors
            Role: Editor
            Journal
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            plos
            plosone
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            1932-6203
            2013
            9 January 2013
            : 8
            : 1
            23326343 3541278 PONE-D-12-18865 10.1371/journal.pone.0052582

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            Counts
            Pages: 7
            Funding
            This research was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant 00194522 to NVW. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
            Categories
            Research Article
            Biology
            Anatomy and Physiology
            Endocrine System
            Endocrine Physiology
            Hormones
            Neuroscience
            Neurochemistry
            Neuroendocrinology
            Behavioral Neuroscience
            Medicine
            Anatomy and Physiology
            Endocrine System
            Endocrine Physiology
            Hormones
            Mental Health
            Psychology
            Behavior
            Emotions
            Psychological Stress
            Social and Behavioral Sciences
            Psychology
            Behavior
            Emotions
            Experimental Psychology
            Psychological Stress

            Uncategorized

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