Whether it be in the boardroom or on the hunting ground, male competition can cause a sudden spike in testosterone levels. Now a new study has found a link between testosterone and the caring side of men when they return home from the ‘hunt’.
The study revealed that the higher a man’s testosterone has risen during the day, the more the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin he tends to produce on his arrival home.
The researchers also found that the increase in oxytocin was greater for those men who were absent longer. The study was based on Tsimane people, who are an indigenous population of forager-farmers and hunters who live in the lowlands of Bolivia’s Amazon basin.
Researchers claim the human hormone system is particularly well adapted to their lifestyle which revolves around small, tight-knit communities that produce their own food. ‘Our goal was to look at the interaction between different hormones in motivating behaviour in a naturalistic context,’ said Adrian Jaeggi, co-lead author at University of California, Santa Barbara
‘Hunting for subsistence and sharing meat is something people have done for hundreds of thousands of years.’ Previous studies have shown that oxytocin makes people more cooperative while testosterone has the opposite effect.
Jaeggi said he expected to see a trade-off between the two hormones and was surprised to find the positive relationship between them. According to Jaeggi and co-lead author Ben Trumble, high testosterone while hunting could be attributed to a ‘winner effect’ experienced by men making a kill.
It could also be related to the status competition that hunting represents for traditional societies such as the Tsimane. In either case, the increased oxytocin could serve as a balance to make the hunters kinder, more generous and more willing to share their bounty. ‘Almost half a century ago, it was famously documented that successful Kung hunters were jokingly insulted by others in order to ‘cool their hearts’ to ‘make (them) gentle,’ lest pride or boasting disrupt the egalitarian social system common to many foragers,’ said senior co-author Michael Gurven.
‘Here we observe a potential hormonal analogue consistent with the type of levelling behaviour seen in hunter-gatherer societies.’ Another use for both hormones may have to do with post-hunt recovery. Both are shown to assist with muscle rebuilding following physical activity. ‘These men are coming home, they’re finished with work for the day, and they’re about to eat and share food,’ Jaeggi continued. ‘So the need to be social coincides with the need to regenerate and it would make sense for the same hormones to facilitate both functions.’
To conduct the study, Trumble joined the hunters as they went out into the jungle and attempted to make a kill to feed their families. He then took saliva specimens along the way, collecting them at exact intervals. The oxytocin was measured in the UCSB Human Biodemography Laboratory. Though the sample size is ‘not huge,’ he and Jaeggi noted, the study ‘definitely adds to the current literature in which the interplay between testosterone and oxytocin is often overlooked.’
‘I think the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ effect could potentially be very widespread,’ said Jaeggi. Reconnecting with their families after a day of separation would have been a very common challenge for men throughout evolutionary history, and oxytocin could help with that.’ Another interesting correlation, Trumble noted, is that the average Tsimane hunt lasts eight and a half hours, roughly equivalent to a workday here.