More than bragging rights: Men who believe they’re winners get a testosterone boost – and think they’re more sexually attractive

Science has just proven that winning a contest can indeed boost a man’s ego. In a study published in the journal Human Nature, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that emerging as the victor against other males can cause an increase in testosterone in men, as well as enhance how sexually attractive they perceive themselves to be.

In the study, the researchers pitted 38 men in their 20s against each other in one-on-one competitions on rowing machines. The participants’ hormone levels were then tested through their saliva samples. They were also asked to answer questionnaires that gauged their self-perceived sexual attractiveness, as well as their confidence in approaching women.

What the participants didn’t know was that the machines were rigged. They declared winners regardless of who among the participants rowed the hardest. The outcomes showed that men didn’t have to actually win to get an increase in testosterone. Merely believing they won caused the same outcome.

Danny Longman, the lead author of the study, says the result is caused by the body’s attempt to induce chemical and behavioral changes in response to shifts in one’s environment. This process is called plasticity, in which the body goes through changes brought about by outside factors without undergoing any change in one’s genetic code.

The goal of these changes in men is what Longman calls the “short-term” approach to reproductive success.

“Much of evolution consists of trade-offs in energy investment. One reproductive approach is short-term, investing time and energy in attracting and pursuing many mates, and fighting off competition. Another approach is long-term, investing energy in raising offspring with a single mate,” he explains.


“We found that a perceived shift in social status can cause male physiology to adapt by preparing to shift mating strategies to optimize reproductive success,” Longman adds.

Men who believed they won experienced a 4.92 percent increase in their testosterone levels. Conversely, those who believed they lost got a 7.24 percent drop in their testosterone. Overall, those who believed themselves to be winners had 14.46 percent higher testosterone levels than their “losing” opponents.

Longman explains that testosterone levels have an impact on a man’s readiness to look for a mate. He cites past research that found that men experienced decreases in testosterone levels when they are in a committed relationship or are taking care of children. This change is attributed to long-term mating strategies.

Indeed, the results of the study prove that the change in status afforded by “winning” increased the men’s mating value, thereby increasing their testosterone levels. This ability of the brain to change in response to environmental changes even when the genetic code remains the same, according to Longman, is a crucial factor that ensured the success of human evolution. (Related: FDA: Testosterone supplements can cause heart failure, stroke, depression, liver toxicity, insomnia and more.)

“Very generally, the mind and the body are completely intertwined. Our mind senses changes in the environment and our body enacts physiological changes as a result of that,” he says.

However, the scientist says that just because there is an increase in testosterone and perceived sexual attractiveness doesn’t mean men also undergo a change in character. Although hormones have a tremendous impact on human behavior, they cannot change a human being’s personality. Longman clarifies that, at the end of the day, although male physiology may take advantage of certain specific situations, the decision to act on one’s impulses will depend on the man himself.

Learn more about the way hormones affect behavior at

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