A review of human male field studies of hormones and behavioral reproductive effort

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Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to review field studies of human male hormones and reproductive behavior. We first discuss life history theory and related conceptual considerations. As illustrations, distinctive features of human male life histories such as coalitional aggression, long-term partnering and paternal care are noted, along with their relevance to overall reproductive effort and developmental plasticity. We address broad questions about what constitutes a human male field study of hormones and behavior, including the kinds of hormone and behavioral measures employed in existing studies. Turning to several sections of empirical review, we present and discuss evidence for links between prenatal and juvenile androgens and sexual attraction and aggression. This includes the proposal that adrenal androgens—DHEA and androstenedione—may play functional roles during juvenility as part of a life-stage specific system. We next review studies of adult male testosterone responses to competition, with these studies emphasizing men's involvement in individual and team sports. These studies show that men's testosterone responses differ with respect to variables such as playing home/away, winning/losing, and motivation. Field studies of human male hormones and sexual behavior also focus on testosterone, showing some evidence of patterned changes in men's testosterone to sexual activity. Moreover, life stage-specific changes in male androgens may structure age-related differences in sexual behavior, including decreases in sexual behavior with senescence. We overview the considerable body of research on male testosterone, partnerships and paternal care, noting the variation in social context and refinements in research design. A few field studies provide insight into relationships between partnering and paternal behavior and prolactin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. In the third section of the review, we discuss patterns, limitations and directions for future research. This includes discussion of conceptual and methodological issues future research might consider as well as opportunities for contributions in under-researched male life stages (juvenility, senescence) and hormones (e.g., vasopressin).

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