Laura Josephine Botzet, Tobias L Kordsmeyer, Sabine Ostermann, Johannes Ruß and Lars Penke

Behavioural endocrinology in the social sciences

Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie

* Laura J. Botzet, Tobias L. Kordsmeyer, Sabine Ostermann and Johannes Ruß contributed equally to the present work and share the first authorship. Hormones are the endocrine system’s messengers and an important coordinating mechanism of the body’s growth, development, and functioning, with often simultaneous effects throughout the body and brain. Echoing calls for more interdisciplinary research bridging the gap between endocrinology and social sciences, we review evidence for hormones influencing human psychology (behaviour, cognition, and sociality), with a focus on health, sexuality, and further outcomes. We focus on four steroid hormones: testosterone (T), cortisol (C), estrogen (E), and progesterone (P). Embedded into life history theory as a prominent evolutionary framework, effects of T are conceptualised as modulating trade-offs between mating and parenting effort, especially when exposed to potential mates, interacting with offspring, and during competition. The challenge hypothesis suggests acute increases in T when facing challenges, with high T being linked to more competitive behaviour. The dual-hormone hypothesis postulates that C, as a measure of stress, inhibits the effects of T on status-seeking behaviour. The allostatic load framework suggests that chronic stress as indicated by high C levels could have detrimental health consequences. Various measurements of C are negatively related to socioeconomic status. The female steroid hormones E and P coordinate female reproduction by regulating the development and function of the uterus. They affect women’s sexual desire as well as self-perceived attractiveness and are influenced by endogenous (e.g. pregnancy) as well as exogenous (e.g. hormonal contraceptives) factors. We address misinterpretations of biological determinism, highlight potential challenges in measuring hormones, and discuss ways in which social scientists can continue to incorporate hormones into their research.