The Hormone Surge

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 tournaments.

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.)

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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 behavior.

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.

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