The nature/nurture debate that posits a competition between biological and social/cultural influences on human behavior is alive and well in the mass media. But scholars largely agree that culture and biology interact; biological realities shape our social world, but our social world also shapes our biologies.
One strain of research demonstrating this has shown that men’s testosterone levels (associated with feelings of well-being) rise and drop in response to social (and socially constructed) cues. For example, the testosterone levels of the winner of a tennis match will rise after his win, while his opponent will see his levels go down. Similarly, measuring men’s testosterone levels won’t tell you which men walking down the sidewalk will enter a strip club, but the men leaving the strip club will have higher testosterone levels than the men who passed it by.
Matt C. alerted me to a test of this phenomenon using the Presidential election. There was a slight drop in testosterone levels for men who voted for Obama (normal because men’s testosterone levels tend to drop at night), but a dramatic drop for men who voted for McCain or the Libertarian candidate, Barr.
So, there you have it, biological responses to social cues.
Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.