The Steelers, the Pistons, or the Rangers—when your favorite team wins, you may feel an ecstatic jolt. The
thrill of victory? Sure. But the change in your mental state might partly
be due to a vicarious wave of testosterone.
Testosterone levels surge in people and animals who win important
competitions—and plummet in losers. That's true in male mammals
competing for a female, or in boxers fighting for a championship. It even
occurs in participants of decidedly nonphysical competitions—like chess
Researchers found that simply watching an emotionally involving
game on TV can raise and lower testosterone. In one study, Georgia State University
scientists ventured out to sports bars and collected saliva samples from
soccer fans watching a World Cup final. (Saliva is a good
stand-in for measuring testosterone levels in the brain.)
Brazil took home the Cup—and testosterone levels among fans rose 28 percent over pregame levels. Meanwhile, testosterone
levels fell by a quarter in dejected Italian fans.
Granted, these were no ordinary spectators. Many were Italian or
Brazilian nationals, and all were so enthusiastic about their respective
teams that they arrived at the bar waving flags, wearing team-color face
paint, and chanting. In less committed fans, there might be
little change in hormone levels.
Still, the hormonal jumps are more than a physiological oddity.
Researchers said that these vicarious testosterone surges could spark the
rioting seen among fans after big games. On a more ominous note, an
earlier study found that hospital admissions due to wife battering
increased in one city the morning after the local pro football team won.
Not that a hormone surge alone will turn a mild-mannered spectator into a
wife-beater or a rioting rogue. But for those with a track record of
aggression, a testosterone boost might encourage antisocial
The findings could apply as well to realms far removed from sports. Winning a big case, for example, could boost a lawyer's
testosterone. Or consider politics: Republicans and Democrats most likely enjoy a testosterone surge after
their party sweeps an election.