Physical Competition Increases Testosterone Among Amazonian Forager-Horticulturalists: A Test of the 'Challenge Hypothesis'

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The challenge hypothesis posits that acute increases in testosterone (T) during male–male competition enhance performance and survivability while limiting the physiological costs of consistently high T. Human challenge hypothesis research focuses on young men in industrial populations, who have higher baseline T levels than men in subsistence populations. We tested whether the Tsimane, pathogenically stressed forager-horticulturalists of the Bolivian Amazon, would express acute T increases in response to physical competition. Saliva was collected from 88 Tsimane men (aged 16–59 years) before and after a competitive soccer match. Tsimane men had significantly lower baseline levels of T (β = −0.41, p < 0.001) when compared with age-matched United States (US) males. Linear mixed-effects models were used to establish that T increased significantly immediately following competition (β = 0.23, p < 0.001), remaining high 1 h later (β = 0.09, p = 0.007); equivalent to 30.1 and 15.5 per cent increases in T, respectively. We did not find larger increases in T among winners (p = 0.412), although T increases were positively associated with self-rated performance (β = 9.07, p = 0.004). These results suggest that despite lower levels of T than US males, Tsimane males exhibit acute increases in T at the same relative magnitude reported by studies in industrialized settings, with larger increases in T for those who report better individual performance.


This article was originally published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, volume 279, issue 1739, in 2012.

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The Royal Society