Recently, Scott Adams created controversy when he said that Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech likely lowered testosterone for the men who watched it. When criticized on twitter, he replied it was a testable scientific hypothesis. This got me thinking – has anyone done a study on how media & movies impact testosterone levels?
It seems intuitive that watching Conan the Barbarian will raise your testosterone more than My Little Pony – but what does the science say? Is Scott right that watching certain news events could impact you hormonally? And if so – what should you watch?
Media Can Raise or Lower Testosterone
Turns out – Movies Can Raise or Lower Hormone Levels (read the full study here). According to a University of Michigan psychology study, watching a romantic film (The Bridges of Madison County) had no effect on women hormonally, but lowered mens testosterone levels. So watching certain media can lower men’s testosterone levels.
The scene from Godfather II where Corleone consolidates power made high-testosterone men even higher testosterone. That same scene actually lowered the testosterone-levels of high-testosterone women and made “people with low-testosterone levels who were most comfortable in submissive roles… downright uncomfortable.”
Why would the same media lower testosterone in one group, and raise it in another?
Winning Raises Testosterone
The interesting thing is that it doesn’t even have to be you that loses. Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing. So if your “team” loses, you may experience that loss as if it was your own. Observe the language of most sports fans: “we lost that game.” This vicarious experience also extends to characters you identify with – including those in movies and media.
If you’re a high-testosterone male, you probably identify with Corleone, because you see yourselves as both powerful men. When you see him win, it feels like you’re winning, because you identify with the character. Your testosterone surges.
High-testosterone women and low-testosterone men likely don’t identify with a male mafia boss. When they see him win, it doesn’t feel like a win for team woman or team meek-men. They may even experience it as a loss. Their bodies respond the same way they would if a dominant powerful man was to assume power over them in real life.
Identity Affects Hormones
Back to our earlier example – would watching Conan the Barbarian would raise your testosterone levels more than My Little Pony?
Depends who you identify with.
If you identify with Conan as a fellow high-testosterone male, watching him win at stuff will pump you up. If you think Conan represents “problematic masculinity” and isn’t part of your team or someone you identify with, watching him win will demoralize you, and lower-testosterone.
Likewise, My Little Pony will lower testosterone for most high-testosterone men, but a dedicated fan might experience a temporary raise in testosterone if they feel the show is a “win” for their team.
Who we identify with and where we focus our attention directly impacts our physiology. These studies just look at testosterone. There are a million other chemicals that our beliefs and thoughts alter.
Identity Affects Hormones
So – does watching Hillary Clinton’s speech raise or lower testosterone levels in men?
That depends on 1) who you identify with, and 2) if you think she is winning or losing.
Scott Adams has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, and believes her persuasion is terrible. Since Scott is team Clinton, watching his team lose would likely lower testosterone levels. However, Politico reports that most insiders felt the speech was a win, which may explain why they disagree with Scott.
But what about the rest of American men? Depends who they identify with. If Clinton positions herself as “team woman,” that makes it less likely men will identify with her, unless they see themselves as part of team woman in some way. Men who are team Clinton and feel she is winning may feel an increase in testosterone.
How To Boost Your Testosterone Through Story
If there’s a lesson in this, it’s to be very careful who you identify with and consider part of your team (especially if you have no control over the outcome – like say, a Presidential election), because that could have a direct impact on your biology. Once you identify with a character, their fate is yours.
If you want to increase your testosterone, find ways to experience victory – even if just vicariously. It doesn’t matter if it’s your victory or not. Pick a team, character, or movie where you know the guy you’re rooting for wins. The bigger the adversity they overcome, the bigger the win, and the greater the surge of victory. Good storytelling will actually raise your testosterone.
This “vicarious victory” is a big reason why people watch movies and tell stories. Achieving victory in the real world takes work. Saving the world in a movie only takes two hours.