Evidence for an adolescent sensitive period to family experiences influencing adult male testosterone production

Lee T. Gettler, Stacy Rosenbaum, Patty X. Kuo, Mallika S. Sarma, Sonny Agustin Bechayda, Thomas W. McDade, Christopher W. Kuzawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Across vertebrates, testosterone is an important mediator of reproductive trade-offs, shaping how energy and time are devoted to parenting versus mating/competition. Based on early environments, organisms often calibrate adult hormone production to adjust reproductive strategies. For example, favorable early nutrition predicts higher adult male testosterone in humans, and animal models show that developmental social environments can affect adult testosterone. In humans, fathers’ testosterone often declines with caregiving, yet these patterns vary within and across populations. This may partially trace to early social environments, including caregiving styles and family relationships, which could have formative effects on testosterone production and parenting behaviors. Using data from a multidecade study in the Philippines (n = 966), we tested whether sons’ developmental experiences with their fathers predicted their adult testosterone profiles, including after they became fathers themselves. Sons had lower testosterone as parents if their own fathers lived with them and were involved in childcare during adolescence. We also found a contributing role for adolescent father–son relationships: sons had lower waking testosterone, before and after becoming fathers, if they credited their own fathers with their upbringing and resided with them as adolescents. These findings were not accounted for by the sons’ own parenting and partnering behaviors, which could influence their testosterone. These effects were limited to adolescence: sons’ infancy or childhood experiences did not predict their testosterone as fathers. Our findings link adolescent family experiences to adult testosterone, pointing to a potential pathway related to the intergenerational transmission of biological and behavioral components of reproductive strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2202874119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jun 7 2022


  • androgens
  • developmental plasticity
  • fathers
  • hormones
  • psychobiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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