Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 223–247 | Cite as

Acute Salivary Steroid Hormone Responses in Juvenile Boys and Girls to Non-physical Team Competition

  • Timothy S. McHaleEmail author
  • Peter B. Gray
  • Ka-chun Chan
  • David T. Zava
  • Wai-chi Chee



Little psychoneuroendocrine research has focused on steroid hormone responses to non-physical competition in middle childhood. This study sought to observe testosterone, estradiol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androstenedione, and cortisol responses in children during a mixed-sex, team, academic competition.


Salivary steroid hormones were collected, along with measures of performance, Body Mass Index, and pubertal development in ethnically Chinese boys (n = 18) and girls (n = 27), aged 9–10 years, during a math competition (N = 45).


Testosterone and estradiol levels were generally low and unmeasurable. Nearly every competitor experienced decreases in cortisol and cortisol/DHEA molar ratio. Pre- and post-match DHEA and androstenedione did not significantly change. Exploratory analyses revealed a positive correlation between DHEA change and team performance among non-active participants (i.e. did not attempt to answer a question). ANCOVAs revealed differences in percentage change in androstenedione between active (n = 20) and non-active participants (n = 25) and among winners (n = 7) and losers (n = 38), and positive associations with age. Percentage change in cortisol was significantly lower among losers compared to winners. Performance measures were positively correlated with DHEA change and percentage change in androstenedione.


Despite girls having higher pre-match androstenedione, both sexes exhibited similar patterned hormone responses. Only cortisol and cortisol/DHEA molar ratio decreased during the competition. However, DHEA, androstenedione, and cortisol match changes were partially related to psychosocial variables (e.g., performance, outcome, participation). These findings provide new insight into factors which may underpin steroid hormone responses during middle childhood non-athletic competition.


Middle childhood DHEA Cortisol Androstenedione Testosterone Competition 



We would like to thank the students, parents, and school administrators for their participation. In addition, we would like to extend our gratitude to Fiona So, Wesley Lui, Billy Lee, and Ka-yan Cheuk for making the implementation of our study design possible. Special thanks to Timothy Lo and Tommy Liu for their help in data collection, Tony Tong for help in translating the forms, David Kimball for running the hormone assays at ZRT Laboratory and to Sherri Zava, Genevieve Neyland, and Wendy Norris for their continued support. Thank you, Wenner-Gren Foundation, for supplying the funding to facilitate this project.

Author Contributions

Statistical analysis and crafted the manuscript: McHale.

Study design and implementation: McHale, Gray, Chee.

Data Collection: McHale, Chee, Chan.

Logistical Support: Gray, Zava, Chee, Chan.

Edited the manuscript, provided intellectual content, and critical feedback: McHale, Gray, Zava, Chan, Chee.

Funding Source

This work was supported by a Wenner-Gren dissertation fieldwork grant (#9239).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest with the contents of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of NevadaLas VegasUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe University of Hong KongPok Fu LamHong Kong
  3. 3.ZRT LaboratoryBeavertonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Education StudiesHong Kong Baptist UniversityKowloon TongHong Kong

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