The effects of competition and implicit power motive on men's testosterone, emotion recognition, and aggression

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Abstract

A contribution to a special issue on Hormones and Human Competition.

We investigated the effects of competition on men's testosterone levels and assessed whether androgen reactivity was associated with subsequent emotion recognition and reactive and proactive aggression. We also explored whether personalized power (p Power) moderated these relationships. In Study 1, 84 males competed on a number tracing task and interpreted emotions from facial expressions. In Study 2, 72 males competed on the same task and were assessed on proactive and reactive aggression. In both studies, contrary to the biosocial model of status (Mazur, 1985), winners’ testosterone levels decreased significantly while losers’ levels increased, albeit not significantly. Personalized power moderated the effect of competition outcome on testosterone change in both studies. Using the aggregate sample, we found that the effect of decreased testosterone levels among winners (compared to losers) was significant for individuals low in p Power but not for those with medium or high p Power. Testosterone change was positively related to emotion recognition, but unrelated to either aggression subtype. The testosterone-mediated relationship between winning and losing and emotion recognition was moderated by p Power. In addition, p Power moderated the direct (i.e., non-testosterone mediated) path between competition outcome and emotion recognition and both types of aggression: high p-Power winners were more accurate at deciphering others’ emotions than high p-Power losers. Finally, among high p-Power men, winners aggressed more proactively than losers, whereas losers aggressed more reactively than winners. Collectively, these studies highlight the importance of implicit power motivation in modulating hormonal, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes arising from human competition.

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