Steroid Hormone Reactivity in Fathers Watching Their Children Compete

Abstract

This study examines steroid production in fathers watching their children compete, extending previous research of vicarious success or failure on men’s hormone levels. Salivary testosterone and cortisol levels were measured in 18 fathers watching their children play in a soccer tournament. Participants completed a survey about the game and provided demographic information. Fathers with higher pregame testosterone levels were more likely to report that referees were biased against their children’s teams, and pre- to postgame testosterone elevation was predicted by watching sons compete rather than daughters as well as perceptions of unfair officiating. Pregame cortisol was not associated with pregame testosterone or with perceived officiating bias, but cortisol did fluctuate synergistically with testosterone during spectator competition. Although fathers showed no consistent testosterone change in response to winning or losing, pregame testosterone may mediate steroid hormone reactivity to other aspects of their children’s competition.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Positive coregulation of cortisol and testosterone with respect to male aggression, dominance maintenance, and mating competition is widely found across vertebrate taxa: amphibians and reptiles (Eikenaar et al. 2012; Lance and Rostal 2002); birds (ring-necked pheasants: Mateos 2005); fish (cichlids: Alcazar et al. 2016); mammals (African wild dogs: Creel et al. 1997; Arctic ground squirrels: Boonstra et al. 2001; bison: Mooring et al. 2004, Mooring et al. 2006) and numerous primate species (baboons: Archie et al. 2012; Sapolsky 1992; bononobos: Dittami et al. 2008; chimpanzees: Muller and Wrangham 2004a, b; humans: Cohen et al. 1996; Gettler et al. 2011; Roney et al. 2007; lemurs: Ostner et al. 2008; long-tailed macaques: van Schaik et al. 1991; tufted capuchins: Lynch et al. 2002), including observational evidence from a large-scale, representative sample of Cebuano Filipino men (Gettler et al. 2011). For detailed treatments of socioecological relationships between stress physiology and dominance rank in wild primates, see Beehner and Bergman 2017; Muller and Wrangham 2004b; Sapolsky 1992.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Kevin Kniffin and Michelle Scalise Sugiyama for their invitation to contribute to this special issue of Human Nature. We thank Jane Lancaster and three anonymous reviewers for comments, Ajay Yesupriya for statistical advice, and Jennifer Cabotage, M. Anderson Frey, Sarah Phillips-Garcia, and Stacie Powell for help with data collection and hormone analysis. We are also grateful to the soccer parents who participated in this study. Alvarado was supported by the Graduate Research Fellowship Program from the National Science Foundation at the time of data collection.

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Correspondence to Louis Calistro Alvarado.

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Alvarado, L.C., Muller, M.N., Eaton, M.A. et al. Steroid Hormone Reactivity in Fathers Watching Their Children Compete. Hum Nat 29, 268–282 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-018-9318-2

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Keywords

  • Testosterone
  • Cortisol
  • Vicarious competition
  • Kin
  • Father-child coalitions