Aggression biological approach - Hormonal

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Aggression biological approach - Hormonal


The hormone linked to aggresssion is testostrone (high levels). Males produce testostrone in the testes. Women also produce testostrone but in smaller amounts. by converting DHEA produced in the adrenal glands.

The link between testostrone and aggression is made based on the fact that men are known more aggressive. Kalat 1998 noted that offical statistics tell us that the people who committ the most violent crimes are male aged 15-25. It is this age that testostrone levels peak and so this demonstrates a link between testostrone and aggression.

The link between testsosterone and aggression has been iollustrated by animal studies. For example, Beeman 1947 castrated male mice and found that their aggression reduced. He then later injected the same mice with testostrone and found that their aggression was re-established.

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Aggression biological approach - Hormonal

Supporting research 

A number of studies have demonstrated a direct link between increased testostrone and aggression which can be seen as a strength of the theory.

Van Goozen et al 1994

  • Studied 35 female to male and 15 male to female transsexuals. They completed questionnaires to assess proneness to aggression. They completed the questionnaires before and after receiving hormone treatment to chnage their sex. Female to male transsexuals were gievn testostrone and male to female were given anti-androgens. Treatment lasted 3 months. Female to male transsexuals reported  an increase in aggression proneness, whereas male to female transsexuals reported decrease.
  • Why is this relevant? This study shows a direct relationship between increased testostrone and increased aggression and so supports the theory.
  • Problems with the study: Aggression was assessed by questionnaires. It is therefore possible that the participants responded in a way that they thought was appropriate for their new gender.
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Aggression biological approach - Hormonal

Supporting research 

Dabbs et al 1995

  • Investigated the relationship between testostrone, crime and prison behaviour. They measured testostrone in the saliva of 692 adult male prisoners, and found that those who had committed crimes involving sex and violence had higher levels of testostrone than inmates who had committed crimes such as burglary and theft. The high testostrone males also violated more prison rules involving confrontation.
  • Why is this relevant? This study also shows a direct relationship between high levels of aggression and high levels of testostrone and so supports the theory.
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Aggression biological approach - Hormonal

Refuting Research 

Not all studies found a straightforward link between high levels of testostrone and aggression:

Bain et al 1987

  • Found no significant differences in the testostrone levels of men who had been charged with non violent crimes such as burglary.
  • Why is this relevant? This study casts doubt on the reliability of Dabbs et al's research findings and goes against the theory that testostrone causes aggression.
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Aggression biological approach - Hormonal

Research to show that testostrone playsa less straightforward role in aggression

Bernhardt 1997

  • Believed that testostrone did play a roole in aggressive behaviour but did so in conjunction with low levels of serotonin. He aruged that testostrone is produced in response to issues involving a need to show dominance. If a man finds his dominance questioned his testostrone will make him react yo this. Having low levels of serotonin will mean that he will be unable to control his need to show dominace and to show aggression in response to this situation.
  • Why is this relevant? This shows us that testostrone does play a role in aggression but does not play the sole role. This is perhaps a more sensible theroy as it recognises a role for two biological factors in explaining aggression, both of which have a lot of research support. This would also explain why not all men respond in an aggressive way when threatened.
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Aggression biological approach - Hormonal

Klinesmith (2006)

  • questioned the role of cause and effect. The theory says that high levels of testosterone come first and cause a person to be aggressive, however, it could be the case that aggression comes first and causes a person’s levels of testosterone to increase. In support of this he found that exposure to a gun (an aggressive stimulus) caused testosterone levels to rise. 
  • Why is this relevant? This study shows us that testosterone might be linked to aggression in that exposure to an aggressive situation causes testosterone levels to rise, however, it also shows us that testosterone is not the root cause of aggression as the theory would state. 
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Aggression biological approach - Hormonal

Issues and Debates

A limitation is that this explanation takes the nature side of the nature/nurture debate and so ignores environmental factors such as exposure to aggressive role models. Biology alone is clearly not the only factor affecting aggression as not all men are aggressive and some women can be very aggressive in nature.

It is also a limitation that this explanation is deterministic. This is because it implies that it is inevitable that men will behave aggressively if they have high levels of testosterone. This is not necessarily going to be the case. Some men may decide that they do not want to be aggressive and so will actively attempt to behave in a more passive way.

A final limitation is that the explanation is socially sensitive. This is for the same reason as the neural explanation. If we are saying that aggression is due to a biological factor and thus outside of a person’s conscious control we are essentially excusing that behaviour which could lead to legal issues of whether a person high in testosterone is accountable for committing violent crimes. 

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