Short-term changes in fathers' hormones during father-child play: Impacts of paternal attitudes and experience

Lee T. Gettler*, Thomas W. McDade, Sonny S. Agustin, Christopher W. Kuzawa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Hormonal differences between fathers and non-fathers may reflect an effect of paternal care on hormones. However, few studies have evaluated the hormonal responses of fathers after interacting with their offspring. Here we report results of a 30-minute in-home experiment in which Filipino fathers played with their toddlers and consider whether paternal experience and men's perceptions of themselves as fathers affect hormonal changes. Fathers provided saliva and dried blood spot samples at baseline (B) and 30 (P30) and 60 (P60, saliva only) minutes after the interaction. We tested whether testosterone (T), cortisol (CORT), and prolactin (PRL) shifted after the intervention. In the total sample, T did not vary over the study period, while CORT declined from B to P30 and P60, and PRL also declined from B to P30. Fathers who spent more time in daily caregiving and men who thought their spouses evaluated them positively as parental caregivers experienced a larger decline in PRL (B to P30) compared to other fathers. First-time fathers also had larger declines in PRL compared to experienced fathers. Experienced fathers also showed a greater decline in CORT (B to P60) compared to first-time fathers. These results suggest that males' paternal experience and age of offspring affect hormonal responses to father-child play and that there is a psychobiological connection between men's perceptions of themselves as fathers and their hormonal responsivity to childcare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-606
Number of pages8
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Cortisol
  • Prolactin
  • Psychobiology
  • Reproductive physiology
  • Socioendocrinology
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Endocrinology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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