Dominance, politics, and physiology: voters’ testosterone changes on the night of the 2008 United States presidential election
Stanton SJ, Beehner JC, Saini EK, Kuhn CM, Labar KS.
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.
PLoS One. 2009 Oct 21;4(10):e7543.
BACKGROUND: Political elections are dominance competitions. When men win a dominance competition, their testosterone levels rise or remain stable to resist a circadian decline; and when they lose, their testosterone levels fall. However, it is unknown whether this pattern of testosterone change extends beyond interpersonal competitions to the vicarious experience of winning or losing in the context of political elections. Women’s testosterone responses to dominance competition outcomes are understudied, and to date, a clear pattern of testosterone changes in response to winning and losing dominance competitions has not emerged.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The present study investigated voters’ testosterone responses to the outcome of the 2008 United States Presidential election. 183 participants provided multiple saliva samples before and after the winner was announced on Election Night. The results show that male Barack Obama voters (winners) had stable post-outcome testosterone levels, whereas testosterone levels dropped in male John McCain and Robert Barr voters (losers). There were no significant effects in female voters.
CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The findings indicate that male voters exhibit biological responses to the realignment of a country’s dominance hierarchy as if they participated in an interpersonal dominance contest.