April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Sporting events can become the hub of a community, bringing it together, but they can even fuel bitter rivalries. A new study, led by the University of Missouri, has found that testosterone levels during group competition vary depending on the relationships of the competitors. These hormones levels may be related to the formation of alliance in warfare.
“One interesting thing about humans is that we are the only animal that competes in teams,” said Mark Flinn, professor of anthropology at MU. “Our hormonal reactions while competing are part of how we evolved as a cooperative species. What we found in our study is that although male´s testosterone levels increase when men are victorious against strangers or rivals, levels of the hormone tend to stay the same when competing against friends.”
The MU research team studied men from varying age groups playing dominoes or cricket on the island of Dominica. They found that when males compete against a group outside of their own community, testosterone levels would rise during and after the game if they won. If they were defeated, the hormone levels dropped. Surprisingly, when the men were competing against their friends, their hormone levels did not change in response to victory or defeat.
They also found that competing in sports coalitions will raise testosterone levels in males. Being a spectator will also raise the hormone levels. According to Flinn, watching a favorite sports team makes the viewer part of a coalition of fans in the community, which will cause a rise in testosterone while watching.
“For example, when MU plays the University of Kansas, males will probably have a huge increase of testosterone during the game and afterwards if their team is victorious,” Flinn said. “At the same time we can create a coalition of fans while attending the game and bond together during the event.”
The team suggests that such coalitions might have had important effects on the evolution of human social psychology.
“The fascinating thing about humans is that whether we are watching or playing the sport, we have the ability to put interactions among the whole team in our heads,” Flinn said. “That just shows how complex our social psychology is. For example, a hockey or basketball player can anticipate how his teammates are going to react when he passes to each one of them and predict the outcome. The ability for humans to be able to do that is pretty astonishing.”