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Does testosterone change personality?

Testosterone is a hormone that plays a vital role in male physical development and health. It is responsible for the development of male secondary sex characteristics during puberty, such as a deepened voice, increased muscle mass and growth of body hair.

Testosterone also plays a key role in sex drive, sperm production, fat distribution, bone mass and red blood cell production. It has also been linked to aggression and risk-taking behavior.

This has led to the popular belief that testosterone not only changes a man’s physical characteristics, but also has the power to shape his personality and behavior. Some believe that higher testosterone levels can make men more aggressive, dominant, risky and morally insensitive.

But does the science back up this common perception? Can testosterone really change someone’s personality? Or are observed personality differences between those with high and low testosterone levels caused by other factors?

How Testosterone Affects the Brain

Testosterone is classified as a sex hormone, but it also plays several key roles in the brain. Here are some of the ways testosterone interacts with the brain:

Influences Brain Development: Testosterone plays a key role in the male brain during early development in the womb. It contributes to the differentiation of the male brain and influences things like the relative volume of gray and white matter. These early effects on brain development are permanent.

Impacts Neurotransmitters: Testosterone affects levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters regulate things like mood, motivation, cognition and behavior.

Influences Neural Activity: Testosterone replacement in castrated animals has shown to reverse changes in neural activity. Testosterone seems to amplify neural signaling.

Promotes Brain Plasticity: Testosterone promotes plasticity, which allows the brain to change and adapt over time. This plasticity underlies many important brain functions.

Interacts With Stress Pathways: There is extensive crossover between testosterone and cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Testosterone activates many of the same pathways as cortisol.

So in summary, testosterone has widespread effects on brain development, chemistry and neural functioning. These diverse interactions provide biological mechanisms by which testosterone could potentially influence personality.

The Link Between Testosterone and Aggression

One of the most debated effects of testosterone is its role in promoting aggression. There are several key pieces of evidence supporting this link:

Testosterone and Crime: Most violent crimes are committed by men, especially young men who tend to have high testosterone. Violent and aggressive behavior has been linked to testosterone levels in prison populations.

Anabolic Steroids: Abuse of anabolic steroids, which act like testosterone in the body, often causes increased aggression known as “roid rage.”

Animal Experiments: Increasing testosterone leads to increased aggression in animals from a wide range of species. Castration reduces aggression.

Testosterone Therapy: Some clinical studies have linked testosterone therapy to aggressive behavior, although results have been mixed.

Individual Variation: Testosterone levels can explain around 5% of the individual variation in aggressive behavior.

However, there are also doubts over the strength of the testosterone-aggression link:

– Aggression leads to increases in testosterone, as well as vice versa, complicating cause-and-effect.

– Findings are inconsistent across studies and depend on many factors.

– Correlation does not prove causation – other variables could explain the relationship.

So in summary, there does appear to be an influence of testosterone on human aggression, but the links are complex and involve many mediating factors. The degree to which testosterone directly causes aggression and violence is still under debate.

Does Testosterone Influence Dominance?

Testosterone is also proposed to affect dominance and social status. But does the research support this?

Some key findings linking testosterone and dominance include:

– Testosterone levels increase during competitions intended to establish social rank.

– Testosterone rises in winners and falls in losers following competitive encounters.

– Testosterone correlates with dominant behavior in men within relationships.

– Causes of social anxiety like abuse can suppress testosterone.

– Testosterone therapy can increase feelings of dominance.

However, there are also uncertainties around the testosterone-dominance theories:

– Feelings of dominance can cause testosterone increases rather than the reverse.

– Social environment growing up impacts adult testosterone levels.

– Cultural factors influence testosterone and social behaviors.

Overall, testosterone does seem to be linked to competitive, dominant behavior in men. But social and environmental factors also substantially contribute to these behaviors over a lifetime.

Does Testosterone Relate to Risk Taking?

Men tend to take more risks than women across areas like finances, health, driving, recreation and ethical behavior. Since men have much higher testosterone, could this explain the gender difference in risk-taking?

Here is some of the evidence linking testosterone to risk taking:

– Financial traders with higher testosterone make riskier trades.

– Higher testosterone correlates with increased recreational risks.

– Testosterone therapy can promote greater risk-taking.

– Men’s testosterone declines during fatherhood may reduce risky choices.

However, skeptics point out that:

– Studies find only weak links between testosterone and real-world risk taking.

– Testosterone shows inconsistent effects on laboratory risk taking.

– Personality and environmental factors also contribute to risk-orientation.

While testosterone likely plays some role, research indicates it is just one part of why men tend to take more risks. Social influences still appear to be the major driver behind real world risky behavior.

Can Testosterone Change Moral Values?

Testosterone has also been theorized to influence moral values like fairness, trust and empathy. But the human studies exploring this have found mixed results:

– Testosterone administration can reduce trust and concern for others.

– However, links between testosterone and moral values are weak in most studies.

– Anti-social populations have lower testosterone, opposite of predictions.

– No difference in moral values between men with high or low testosterone are found.

– Differences in values better explained by psychological sex differences.

Overall, testosterone does not seem to directly alter moral values and empathy in most men. Personality traits linked to testosterone like aggressiveness may contribute indirectly though.

Conclusions on Testosterone’s Effects

Here is a summary of the main conclusions that can be drawn about testosterone’s effects on male personality and behavior:

– Testosterone has definitively been shown to promote aggression and competitive behavior in men. However, the degree to which testosterone directly causes real-world violence is debated.

– Testosterone does encourage dominance and risk-taking, although social factors also play a major role.

– Despite theories, testosterone has minimal effects on moral values like empathy and fairness in most men.

– The impacts of testosterone depend greatly on the environment and vary between individuals. Testosterone interacts with psychological factors like personality.

So in conclusion, testosterone does appear to influence certain aspects of male personality and behavior. But its effects are complex, mediated by many factors, and often weaker than stereotypical views suggest.

Are There Brain Structure Differences?

Studies have identified some clear differences in the structure and activation of male and female brains. These seem to stem from the organizational effects of hormones like testosterone during early development.

Some of these structural differences include:

Larger Volume: The total brain volume is about 10% larger in men on average.

Amygdala: Men tend to have a larger amygdala, linked to emotion and aggression.

Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus, which regulates hormones, is larger in men.

Cerebral Cortex: The cerebral cortex is thicker in women.

Corpus Callosum: The corpus callosum connecting the hemispheres is larger in women.

During tasks, men and women tend to show differences in activation of key regions like the amygdala and cerebral cortex. However, there is much overlap between the sexes – group differences are statistical rather than absolute.

Both biological and environmental factors are likely behind these differences. Disentangling these influences remains an active area of research.

The Variability of Testosterone Levels Between Men

While men have much higher testosterone than women on average, there is substantial overlap between the sexes. The “normal” range for men is very wide, spanning from 300 to 1,000 ng/dL.

Within this normal range, men can vary dramatically in their testosterone levels. Ranges include:

Low testosterone: Below 300 ng/dL

Moderately low testosterone: 300-400 ng/dL

Average testosterone: 400-700 ng/dL

High normal testosterone: 700-900 ng/dL

Very high testosterone: Above 900 ng/dL

Men can fall anywhere in this wide range depending on many factors like genetics, health status, age and lifestyle factors.

This natural variability within men is important – it means men with different testosterone levels can be compared within studies. This allows researchers to isolate the effects of testosterone itself on personality and behavior.

Causes of differing testosterone levels between men

There are a wide range of factors that can lead to men having higher or lower testosterone levels than other men. Some major influences include:

Genetics: Testosterone production is controlled by various genes.

Age: Testosterone declines naturally after age 30.

Obesity: Being overweight/obese lowers testosterone.

Chronic disease: Conditions like type 2 diabetes are associated with lower testosterone.

Injury: Testicular injury from events like trauma can reduce testosterone.

Medications: Opioids, steroids, antidepressants and others lower testosterone.

Sleep: Poor sleep quality and sleep apnea decrease testosterone levels.

Smoking and alcohol: Heavy use of tobacco and alcohol lowers testosterone.

So in summary, testosterone levels even within the normal male range are impacted by a multitude of genetic and lifestyle influences. This contributes to personality variability between men.

Does Testosterone Mediate Personality Differences Between Men and Women?

Average testosterone levels differ dramatically between men and women – men have about 10-20 times higher testosterone after puberty. Could this help explain personality differences between the sexes?

Here are some key points from studies attempting to answer this question:

– Typical sex differences in personality are larger than differences due to testosterone in men.

– Overlapping testosterone levels in men and women did not lead to similar personalities in one study.

– Women given testosterone did not adopt male-typical behaviors.

– Men and women do not differ much in testosterone-related personality traits before puberty.

– Similar testosterone levels in older men and women do not eliminate personality differences.

Based on the evidence, the differences in testosterone between men and women cannot directly account for personality and psychological sex differences. These differences appear to stem more from cultural learning and identity. However, testosterone likely interacts with these processes in complex ways.

Personality Changes During the Teen Years

The brain and personality continue developing into the late teens and early 20s. Testosterone rises dramatically in boys during puberty – could this help explain personality changes during the teen years?

Here is what studies show about personality changes in teenage boys:

– Become more emotionally stable and less neurotic.

– Increase in social dominance and competitive behaviors.

– Rise in sensation-seeking and risk-taking behaviors.

– Tend to be more self-centered with less interest in school.

– Increase in aggression and delinquent behaviors in some boys.

– But, changes highly variable between individuals.

These changes do correlate with the rise in testosterone during male puberty. However, environmental factors are likely more important overall, interacting with testosterone.

Can Testosterone Therapy Alter Personality?

Testosterone therapy is used medically to help treat low testosterone (hypogonadism) in men. But can raising testosterone levels higher than a man’s natural baseline impact personality?

Here is what studies reveal about the psychological effects of testosterone therapy:

– Can improve mood and decrease depressive symptoms.

– May increase motivation, energy and well-being.

– Has not been found to systematically alter personality in most men.

– Mixed effects on aggression – likely amplifies existing tendencies.

– Can increase sexual desire and dominant behavior.

– Changes tend to be small overall and vary between individuals.

Therefore, testosterone therapy does not appear to radically change personality in most men. It can shift certain traits and amplify existing tendencies though. Personality and social context still appear to be the overriding factors.

However, in adolescent males, use of anabolic steroids and prohormones to boost muscle growth and athletic performance can increase aggressive behavior linked to “roid rage.” Testosterone use in teens whose personalities are still developing may be riskier.

Can Female Testosterone Therapy Change Personality?

While uncommon, testosterone therapy is also sometimes used in women to treat low libido and other symptoms of testosterone deficiency. But does increasing testosterone affect personality in women?

Studies on the psychological effects of testosterone therapy in women have found:

– Can improve libido, energy and mood.

– Mixed effects on cognition – may improve some abilities like memory.

– Does not systematically alter female personality – no “masculinization.”

– Does not appear to increase aggression and dominant behavior in most women.

– Enhances competitiveness in some contexts.

– Changes tend to be modest overall.

In summary, testosterone therapy in physiological doses does not reliably change personality or radically alter behavior in most women. Differences in male and female brains and identities appear to constrain major effects. However, minor shifts in competitiveness, motivation and sex drive may occur.


While testosterone does appear to contribute to characteristics like dominance, risk-taking and aggression, its impacts on male personality are complex. Most evidence indicates testosterone alone cannot directly account for male-typical personality traits.

Differences in testosterone between men and women do not directly drive most psychological sex differences. Personality is shaped much more by our socialization and developmental environment.

However, testosterone still plays a role, interacting with these social factors and contributing to natural diversity within each sex. The dynamics of these interactions continue to be studied.

Overall, testosterone has observable yet complex and subtle effects on behavior in men and women. But it does not radically remake personality outside of developmental stages like puberty. Personality differences depend much more on our unique life experiences and environments.