Does Fighting Increase Testosterone?

Does Fighting Increase Testosterone?

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


Leaders have always been the strongest men. The strongest men have always had an intense drive to succeed and were competitive. They're dominant and aggressive. 

Animal instincts are innately aggressive. The difference between passive and dominant people is marked by their aggressive behaviour. 

Everyone has a friend who loves to fight. He'll start a fight in the bar if you turn your back. Is he the most testosterone-rich of you all? Has he got some aggression problems? 

The fact is that testosterone can control dominant behavior, but does it work in the opposite direction? Could fighting boost your testosterone? 

When you look at the male behavior, there are many questions to be answered. This article will tell you more. 

The Right to Passage of a Man

One thing is common to all the millions of years that evolution has existed. Fighting. All animals, not just humans. You'll see dominance behaviour in all animals. 

Now, it's widely believed that testosterone is responsible for aggression, dominance, and anger. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is directly affected by testosterone. This in turn affects competitiveness, anger and arousal. Pre-frontal cortex is more influenced by testosterone levels. 

According to animal studies, rank is determined by physical dominance and vocal power [2]. These behaviors include: 

  • Pose dominant
  • Contact with the eye
  • Height and Strength
  • Glazing
  • Assertive speech

Research shows that testosterone is a key factor in determining these traits. Lower testosterone levels are associated with more passive traits, such as defensiveness and a lack of competition. 

All of these behaviors are crucial in combat - it's the ultimate test for dominance. 

Fighting is an ancient and widespread social behaviour that increases your social ranking and your chance of being attracted to the "best" females within your group. This is a vital aspect of survival, and it helps to preserve species by ensuring that they reproduce. 

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Testosterone, Natural Instinct and the Body's Reaction

You might not think of aggression as positive. In society, aggression is frowned upon. As a male, you are compelled to demonstrate dominance. If anyone challenges this desire then it's on. By hiding your dominance, you may be missing some specific benefits. 

The distorted remnants of this instinct remain within humans. They are suppressed, however, by social and familial inhibitions. However, they still appear in various and modified forms, depending on the individual's idiosyncrasy and temperament, as well as their psychological condition. 

The society tells us aggression and dominance is wrong. According to the law and social rules, fighting is not necessary. It's there, but it is hidden under modern etiquette. Some of us are better at hiding it than others. 

If you are drawn to aggressive behavior, then this is something that you should know. It's possible you don't admit to it, but you probably like watching fights. You may not want to take part in them but the excitement of the battle is what you love. 

Media love to tell sensational stories about fighting. Even if they would never admit that, it is true. We must not forget the survival aspect of fighting. 

So Does Fighting Boost Testosterone?

This subject is not well researched. It's unlikely, as it would be unethical for a bunch of men to start fighting each other just to do science. 

Fighting sports can provide useful information. 

The research on competitive judo has shown that testosterone levels positively correlate with competition dominance. 

Salvador et. al. [3] discovered that among 28 male athletes, the ones with higher serum testosterone were most likely to engage in aggressive combat. They were then perceived as more dangerous by their rivals and therefore more likely to be victorious. 

A study on judo club members found that testosterone levels increased significantly after competitive fights [4]. 

A study in the American Psychological Association[5] showed that testosterone levels increased after a fight for 15 wrestlers. 

It is interesting to note that winners experienced a much greater increase in T levels compared with losers. Losers were more likely than winners to see their T-levels decrease. 

It's Not Just About Winning.

You can either win or lose a fight. This can have a significant impact on your testosterone level, according to research. 

The T-levels will increase after a physical challenge, but the results of that competition determines how high they are. 

Booth et. al. [6] discovered that testosterone levels after competition were higher for the winners compared to losers. This was especially true of winners who rated their performance highly. 

The T-levels of losers dropped not only after the competition but at the start of the following match as well. This changed their behavior not only during the competition but afterward! 

Testosterone, post-fight behavior and the effects of testosterone

Our heroes often are those who have overcome failure despite adversity, whether in sports, business or other walks of life. 

The fact that they keep getting back up despite being knocked down is remarkable. Research shows that testosterone increases your ability to overcome defeat. 

It's important to know how to overcome a setback. You develop your character when you face a defeat. --Richard M. Nixon

In a study conducted by Mehta and colleagues [7], 64 men were recruited to take part in an unfair competition. They didn't realize that they were unable to win. 

The T-levels of most men plummeted, as expected. The research team was surprised to discover that the few men whose T levels rose were much more inclined to want to continue competing than losers whose T levels dropped. 

They were naturally competitive, so even if they had lost, they would still compete. Testosterone made people more competitive and changed their reaction to loss. 

Research has found that winning doesn't boost T levels alone, it also depends on the part you play. According to one study, the men who contributed the most towards the outcome had the largest increases in testosterone levels [8]. 

Summary: The Fighting and Testosterone Relations

The male body is designed to compete. Higher testosterone levels amplify this trait. 

A fight is a good example of how you can test your social superiority. Higher T-levels are more aggressive, stronger and have better control. Low levels of T aren't. 

Do we suggest that you start a brawl? Of course not. With the popularity of combat sports on the rise, there's no reason not to grab a pair and start fighting.

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  1. Batrinos, ML et al. Testosterone and Aggressive Behavior in Man. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2012; 10(3): 563–568
  2. Mazar, A. Biosocial Model of Status in Face-to-Face Primate Groups. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences. 2013; 84: 53-56
  3. Salvador, A et al. Correlating testosterone and fighting in male participants in judo contests. Physiology & Behavior. 1999; 68: 205–209
  4. Salvador, A et al. Testosterone and Cortisol Responses to Competitive Fighting in Human Males: A Pilot Study. Aggressive Behaviour. 1987; 13: 9-13
  5. Elias, M. Serum cortisol, testosterone, and testosterone-binding globulin responses to competitive fighting in human males. Aggressive Behavior, Vol 7(3), 1981, 215-224
  6. Booth, A et al. Testosterone, and winning and losing in human competition. Horm Behav. 1989; 23(4): 556-71
  7. Mehta, PH et al. Testosterone change after losing predicts the decision to compete again. Horm Behav. 2006; 50(5): 684-92
  8. Gonzalez-Bono, E et al. Testosterone, cortisol, and mood in a sports team competition. Horm Behav. 1999; 35(1): 55-62
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