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Testosterone levels and marriage: High is not all bad


A low-testosterone man newly married to a high-testosterone woman might seem destined to be henpecked but a Penn State study found that such a coupling actually produced a marriage where the wife provided better social support for her mate.

Dr. Catherine Cohan, assistant professor of human development and family studies, says, "It’s not necessarily the case that higher testosterone is all bad. Testosterone is related to assertiveness which can be good or bad depending on whether it is manifested as either aggression or being helping and outgoing."

In the first study of married couples to measure both the wife’s and the husband’s testosterone level, Penn State researchers found that positive or negative communication depended on the combination of your own testosterone level (relative to others of your gender) and your spouse’s testosterone level.

The researchers found, for example, that wives were more adaptive social support providers to their husbands when the woman had higher testosterone (relative to other women) and the man had lower testosterone (relative to other men). On the other hand, husbands were more positive and less negative when discussing a marital problem and better social support givers when both partners had lower testosterone levels.

The Penn State team published their findings in a paper, "Gender Moderates the Relationship Between Testosterone and Marital Interaction", in the March issue of the Journal of Family Psychology. The authors are Cohan; Dr. Alan Booth, distinguished professor of sociology, human development, and demography; and Dr. Douglas A. Granger, associate professor of biobehavioral health and human development and family studies.

In the study, 92 couples married an average of 11 months, were videotaped talking in their living rooms four times during two visits. In two of the conversations, the researchers assessed marital conflict resolution skills. The husband and wife were instructed to spend 15 minutes discussing a common marital problem selected from a list of such problems. At one home visit, the couple discussed the marital problem chosen by one spouse. The other spouse picked the problem for discussion at the second visit.

At the end of the first home visit, the spouses were given instructions and materials to provide saliva samples on two mornings so that their testosterone levels could be measured.

In the remaining two conversations, to assess social support, the couple was taped discussing a personal concern involving something they wanted to change or improve, for example quitting smoking, that was not a source of marital tension. Again, in one session the wife chose the topic and then the husband chose.

The researchers then viewed the videotapes and analyzed them using standard psychological techniques, The Penn State’s Behavioral Endocrinology Laboratory and the Population Research Institute supported the study.

Barbara Hale | EurekAlert!
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