Testosterone Levels in Men Linked to Empathy in Studies

Besides cultural and socially instilled differences, what are the real differences between men and women and the reasons behind their behaviors?

A new study shows that some of it may have to do with empathy, and the respective genders’ ability to detect it. The study showed that women may be more empathetic than men because of the effect of the hormone testosterone on men’s brains.

The study, led by Dr. Peter Bos of Utrecht University, tested a small group of women who were given oral testosterone at doses high enough to boost their testosterone blood levels.

They were then asked to identify the emotions of people, just by looking at pictures of their eyes. Women traditionally score higher on this test than do males.

Women who had taken the testosterone took longer to identify emotions and made more mistakes than the women who did not.

Further brain scans showed that a single dose of testosterone was enough to alter the connections between regions of the brain associated with emotional processing.

This will not be good news for the one in four men over 30 who research has suggested have low testosterone levels. Many of these men seek hormone therapy to repair the imbalance, which can cause health issues and sexual impotence.

Other studies in recent years have confirmed the finding of Dr. Bos and his team. A University of Michigan study from last year found that when men saw their small children in distress, it lowered their testosterone. This, and the father’s relationship with the infant’s mother, had a large part in determining whether or not they were nurturing fathers.

The study found that a crying baby can illicit some emotions that can be accompanied by a corresponding hormonal reaction. The data was collected from 175 men who were expecting their second child with their partner.

“We are not arguing that universal decline in testosterone will always be associated with ‘good fathering,’ said Brenda Volling, the co-author of the study.”Perhaps increases in men’s testosterone may be necessary to protect the infant from harm in some situations. We are just beginning to understand the complex relations between men’s hormones and fathering.”

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