A new study suggests that, in casting your vote this midterm election, you may be determining something other than whether our country will shift left or right. Winners may take the house, the senate...and the internet porn sites.

No, this isn't your typical sex and politics scandal, people, this is science. And testosterone. The "challenge hypothesis," which the researchers (Patrick and Charlotte Markey of Villanova and Rutgers Universities, respectively) set out to test, holds that when men compete, they experience a testosterone surge. Winning keeps the testosterone level high; losing sets the level falling. Prior research had proven the challenge hypothesis to hold among men in martial arts, tennis, wrestling, and even chess competitions (disproving once and for all, presumably, that chess players are just cerebral dweebs).

What is the benefit of such surges and ebbs in testosterone levels for men? Evolutionary biologists suggest the phenomenon likely evolved as a protective adaptation. A male who loses, but continues to be aggressive, is going to get pummeled. Ramp down his hormones, and the risk recedes. As for winners--there's no need to tone it down, is there?

Markey and Markey realized they could easily test the challenge hypothesis among contemporary male homo sapiens by tracking their internet porn usage before and after American elections. And guess what? In the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections, and the 2006 midterm election, their hunch was born out. As was reported in the Economist, "No matter which side won, searches for porn (verified through Word Tracker Google Trends) increased in states that had voted for the winners and decreased in those that had voted for the losers. The difference....was consistent and statistically significant."

Testosterone may explain the urge, but another factor in the red state/blue state porn viewing trend, not mentioned by the study or pundits as yet, might be cultural. Today political junkies can follow races more efficiently and obsessively than ever before. Owing to the internet, developments in the election cycle are not just weekly or daily or even hourly--they "happen" minute-by-minute as poll results come in, as stories break, as bloggers post, and as even the most miniscule margins wax and wane. Where's a hepped-up winner to go for a fix once the jig is up and the political race is over? Apparently, right back where he was before: laptops are the new lap dance.

Further Reading

Markey and Markey, "Changes in Pornography Seeking Behaviors Following Political Elections: an Examination of the Challenge Hypothesis," Evolution and Human Behavior, September 2010.

http://www.livescience.com/culture/winning-competition-increases-male-po...

"Rising to the Occasion," The Economist, October 30th - Nov 5th, 2010, p. 89.

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