Coordination of the cortisol and testosterone responses: A dual axis approach to understanding the response to social status threats

Bulent Turan*, Jennifer L. Tackett, Maria T. Lechtreck, Wesley R. Browning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


For many people, competitions, status challenges, and being evaluated by others result in increases in cortisol as well as testosterone. It is argued that physiological processes work in a coordinated fashion when facing social evaluative-competitive situations. Such a coordinated response may be part of an evolved system, monitoring and responding to threats to one's social status. In two studies, using within-person multi-level analyses, we tested the hypothesis that adult men, pre/early pubertal boys, and pre/early pubertal girls show a coordinated response in cortisol and testosterone (i.e., coupling of cortisol and testosterone responses) during a social evaluative situation. In Study 1, 85 men delivered speeches and performed difficult arithmetic tasks in front of critical evaluators, prepared for a competition, and provided multiple saliva samples throughout the procedure for cortisol and testosterone assays. In Study 2, 79 boys and 74 girls underwent similar procedures as in Study 1. Within-person analyses suggested that cortisol and testosterone responses were indeed positively associated for all three groups (men, boys, and girls). That is, on average a participant's cortisol and testosterone levels tended to rise and fall together throughout the procedure, suggesting that cortisol and testosterone show coordinated activation and deactivation (coupling) during social status threats. Furthermore, men with higher anxiety during the stressor tasks (Study 1; coded by raters from video recordings) and both boys and girls with higher parent reported trait negative affectivity (Study 2) had stronger coupling. Men (Study 1) higher in self-reported trait dominance and verbal dominance (coded by raters from video recordings during the stressor), and lower in basal testosterone had weaker coupling. A coordinated hormone response may have important adaptive functions when dealing with status threats; cortisol can mobilize energy resources and testosterone can facilitate performance. These findings have implications for developing a dual axis understanding of physiological responses during social threats and competition and their function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-68
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Dec 2015


  • Cortisol
  • Coupling
  • Social evaluation
  • Status threats
  • Testosterone
  • Within-person

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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