Prestige in a large-scale social group predicts longitudinal changes in testosterone

Joey T. Cheng, Olga Kornienko, Douglas A. Granger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In many social species, organisms adaptively fine-tune their competitive behavior in response to previous experiences of social status: Individuals who have prevailed in the past preferentially compete in the future, whereas those who have suffered defeat tend to defer and submit. A growing body of evidence suggests that testosterone functions as a "competition hormone" that coordinates this behavioral plasticity through its characteristic rise and fall following victory and defeat. Although well demonstrated in competitions underpinned by dominance (fear-based status derived from force and intimidation), this pattern has not been examined in status contests that depend solely on prestige-respect-based status derived from success, skills, and knowledge in locally valued domains, devoid of fear or antagonism. Thus, the hormonal mechanisms underlying prestige-based status are largely unknown. Here, we examine the effects of previous experiences of prestige-assessed using community-wide nominations of talent and advice provision-on intraindividual changes in testosterone in a large-scale naturalistic community. Results revealed that men who achieve high standing in the group's prestige hierarchy in the initial weeks of group formation show a rise in testosterone over the subsequent 2 months, whereas men with low-prestige show a decline or little change in testosterone-a pattern consistent with the functional significance of context-specific testosterone responses. No significant associations were found in women. These results suggest that the long-term up- and downregulation of testosterone provides a mechanism through which past experiences of prestige calibrate psychological systems in a manner that adaptively guides future efforts in seeking and maintaining prestige.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)924-944
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Hormones
  • Prestige
  • Social hierarchy
  • Social status
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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