Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Continuing Commentary
Commentary on Allan Mazur & Alan Booth (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. BBS 21(3):353–97

Testosterone, cortisol, dominance, and submission: Biologically prepared motivation, no psychological mechanisms involved

Jack van Honk a1, Dennis J. L. G. Schutter a1, Erno J. Hermans a1 and Peter Putman a1
a1 Helmholtz Research Institute, Affective Neuroscience Section, Utrecht University, 3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands


Mazur & Booth's (1998) target article concerns basal and reciprocal relations between testosterone and dominance, and has its roots in Mazur's (1985; 1994) model of primate dominance-submissiveness interactions. Threats are exchanged in these interactions and a psychological stress-manipulation mechanism is suggested to operate, making sure that face-to-face dominance contests are usually resolved without aggression. In this commentary, a recent line of evidence from human research on the relation between testosterone, cortisol, and vigilant (dominant) and avoidant (submissive) responses to threatening “angry” faces is discussed. Findings, to a certain extent, converge with Mazur & Booth's theorizing. However, the strongest relations have been found in subliminal exposure conditions, suggesting that biological instead of psychological mechanisms are involved.