A study conducted by the University of Cambridge and published today in the journal Human Nature, suggests that just the belief that you have won a competition is enough to increase testosterone, and influence your sexual behaviour as a result, no matter if you actually did win or not.
To conduct the study, researchers had men pair off in competitive challenges on rowing ergs, rigging the results and randomly declaring a winner, unbeknownst to the subjects. Following the declaration of a winner, the team then took hormone measurements via saliva samples, as well as self-identified measures on perceived confidence, willingness to engage in casual sex, and their own level of attractiveness.
According to the results, those who had been told they’d won returned testosterone readings that were 14 per cent higher than the perceived loser, and were 11 per cent more likely to pursue a casual sexual encounter.
"Victory in a rowing contest strongly implies the possession of greater physical strength than the opponent, a trait found to be valued by women in our evolutionary past when choosing a mate," said study lead author Dr Danny Longman, suggesting that the increase in testosterone is an evolutionary chemical change that pushes a male towards a short-term sexual encounter following a ‘winning’ display. Apparently the perception that a man is a winner is enough to elevate his self-perceived social value after defeating a rival, leading to a confidence-backed search for a mate.
"Our results show that both testosterone and its corresponding psychological effects can fluctuate quickly and opportunistically, shifting towards short-term mating in response to a perceived change in status that may increase mating value."
And while the effects of actually winning had previously been thought to boost testosterone based on the effort required to win, this is the first study to link the psychological factor directly to increased levels.
"The endocrine system that controls hormones is responsive to situational changes. Previous research has shown that testosterone is lower when men are in a committed relationship, or have children, to promote long-term mating strategies," said Longman.