McCain Vote Might Mean Low Testosterone Later

A study shows testosterone levels of McCain supporters dipped on election night.

October 21, 2009, 7:17 PM

Oct. 22, 2009— -- Republican men nationwide may have experienced a drop in testosterone levels the night Barack Obama was elected president, according to the results of a small study that found another link between testosterone and men's moods.

By taking multiple saliva samples from 183 young men and women on election night, researchers found that the testosterone levels of men who voted for John McCain or Robert Barr dropped sharply 40 minutes after Obama was announced the winner.

The testosterone levels of men who voted for Obama stayed the same throughout the evening. This could be significant because testosterone levels normally rise and fall throughout the day.

The study, published in in PLOS One, is one of many that indicates a link between men's moods and testosterone, although which causes which is not clear.

Women who voted for a losing candidate did not show a similar drop in testosterone, although in a questionnaire prepared by the researchers they reported feelings of unhappiness, of being controlled and feeling submissive similar to those remarked by men who voted for a losing candidate.

Some McCain backers described some of those feelings in emails to about their mood following Obama's victory.

"After the election, I felt disappointed. Robbed, almost. As I watched the results pour in on both my television and on the Internet, I began to realize that there was no path to victory," Michael Coyne, of Park Ridge, Ill., wrote in a message to Coyne said the 2008 election was the first election in which he was old enough to vote.

Robert Higginson, of Orem, Utah, wrote to that he "felt really sad for myself and I was (still am) worried about the wellbeing of the US of A."

To be sure, not everyone who voted for McCain shared those feelings of letdown.

"If unmitigated rage is an indication of testosterone levels, mine are higher than ever," wrote in Don from, Albuquerque, N.M.

The lowered testosterone levels the study found in Republican men after the election matches what other researchers have found when men are involved in face-to-face competition. Scientists have shown that more often than not in showdowns such as sports competitions or physical fights the loser ends up with a drop in testosterone.

Steven Stanton, lead author of the study, said colleagues at Duke University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor wondered if the same drop in testosterone that happened in face-to-face competitions would happen in vicarious dominance situation, such as an election.

What About Women Who Supported McCain

The researchers also included women, although few similar studies have before.

"Historically, the study of the biology of dominance and dominance competition has focused on men," said Stanton, a post doctoral fellow, at Duke University. "There is only a handful of studies looking at dominance competition in women, like five or six."

Unlike the men in the study, the women in the testosterone saliva test showed no significant difference in testosterone levels.

Stanton explained that "there is not a good parallel mechanism that would foster that [rise in testosterone] in women," since men produce testosterone quickly in the testes as well as the adrenal glands, but women only produce testosterone in the adrenal glands and in small quantities in the ovaries.

Stanton says his team plans to publish more research on stress hormones measured during election night 2008 in the future.

"This is evidence showing that social events in our lives do affect our physiology, and it can happen quite quickly," he said.

However, Dr. Abraham Morgentaler author of "Testosterone for Life," said research linking testosterone to moods isn't as solid as doctors would like, and the saliva test for testosterone itself isn't well studied or validated.

"What we have is an association -- it's hard to know what that means for people, did it [testosterone] go down because the men were upset and disappointed, or is it totally unrelated?" asked Morgentaler, who is also an associate clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School.

Morgentaler said despite the inability to prove cause and effect in the study, overall doctors are seeing more evidence that testosterone is linked to men's moods.

Stanton added that the drop in testosterone his study mimicked the same hormone fluctuations found in most male mammals after they lose a physical fight.

Testosterone and Competition in Nature

"For men or male mammals, or males of a variety of species -- if you win, typically, testosterone goes up and if you lose testosterone goes down," Stanton said.

Scientists hypothesize that the rise in testosterone motivates the winner to keep fighting and establish more dominance, thereby getting more access to food, territory or even potential mates.

The loser, however, typically leaves the scene of the competition.

"All things considered that's pretty smart, you just lost and it's probably not going to be for your benefit to fight again -- especially if you might be injured," he said.

Whether these basic animal instincts can be correlated to people in a complex world of politics and democracy remains to be seen, but at least some people who voted for McCain felt as if they wanted to walk away on election night.

"I felt somewhat disconnected from America after the election. At least I have about 45 percent of America still with me," wrote Doug Johnson of Plainfield, Ind.

Johnson voted for McCain in 2008, and felt a little fed up at the end of election night.

"I felt a little secluded. I didn't even want to watch any of the programs. I didn't want to watch any of the glory-seeking politicians before Obama spoke," he said. "I just kind of turned the TV off -- it's almost like the NFL guy goes and slams the football down and I just don't want to see it."

Interestingly enough, a sports event is the next area Stanton would like to study as a vicarious battlefield for spectators' testosterone levels: a college basketball game between traditional rivals Duke University and the University of North Carolina.

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