Brave men: Testosterone reduces fear
Men are mostly associated with power, dominance and courage in opposition to women’s warm, caring and less aggressive nature. Studies verify, that the hormone testosterone, which is thought to be partly responsible for males behaviour in many animals and humans, has fear-reducing effects. A study from 2005 dealing with unconscious fear and another from 2006 examining the effects of the hormone on fear startle prove the anxyolitic effects of testosterone. These results may revolutionise the medical treatment of people suffering from anxiety disorders, such as phobias or panic disorder, as testosterone does not seem to have the side effects of anxiolyitics ...view middle of the document...
When the subjects took placebo thought to be T, they automatically became more violent. However, in the very same experiment those who got actual T, made fairer and better offers to others. This is because humans live in a socially complex environment where the key to success is not physical aggression but sensitivity to status (1). This explains many effects of T discovered in recent years. To a achieve status, one needs social sensitivity – T is able to decrease the level of trust in highly trustful people (2). Also, one has to be courageous and – T reduces unconscious fear (3).
The latter effect of long-time T intake was verified for a long time only by self-reported mood improvements of people with anxiety disorders (3), but until the past years there was no scientific proof of it. According to two studies from 2005 and 2006, T has a reducing effect on fear startle and unconscious fear.
The earlier study (3) focused on how T affects unconscious fear but does not influence experienced anxiety. Science differentiates these two based on biological and emotional characteristics. Fear is a basic emotional response to definite or known threat; its main purpose is to detect the threat and react (4) to it as quickly as possible. It leads to three kind of coping reactions, decided by special cells: freeze, attack or escape (5). During fear the amygdala-centered limbic system is activated. Anxiety, on the other hand, is linked to the prefrontal cortex and is a cognitive process, as it is activated by potential danger (4, 6). However, these two can not be clearly divided, because firstly, they might overlap, secondly, fear can cause anxiety and vice versa.
Pathways to the amygdala: the thalamus to amygdala way is the fastest, while the thalamus-cortex-amygdala way is slower but allows the external stimuli to become conscious. This is the difference between the formation of fear (blue) and anxiety (red) (10).
In this experiment (6), the subjects were healthy, young women, as the effect of a smaller amount of extra testosterone on men is unknown. Participants were tested in the early phase of their menstrual cycles because at that time the level of hormones is low and stable.
The test was an emotional Stroop task in which fearful, neutral and happy faces were used as stimuli with a masking technique showing the re-photographed and rearranged face. An angry face is threatening in a similar way as a picture of a snake or a spider, as proven by Öhman (7). Both are evolutionary shaped behaviours, the latter helping to escape predators, the other protecting the group from physical fights, as the gradiation is decided rather through symbolic acts.
During the tests it was carefully examined if T influenced the subjects attention or if they could recognize the expression of the masked faces. The task of the participants was to name the colour of the masked face as quickly as possible. Then the time between seeing the face and...