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Honors Thesis-Unrestricted

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Elizabeth Shirtcliff


Testosterone levels change in response to a variety of social situations including, sexual and challenge situations. Yet, little is known about the role of testosterone dynamics in in young adults in romantic relationships. Furthermore, the effect of compatibility of the relationship dyad on testosterone reactivity in response to social-challenge is unknown. Prior studies suggest that attachment levels may predict testosterone responsivity during stressors such as social challenge.

What is missing from the literature is whether testosterone response to social-challenge is specifically modified within the confines of an attachment relationship, such as within romantic couples. I measured salivary testosterone in healthy romantically involved young adult couples in response to a examined romantic couples during a standardized laboratory stressor in the SPIT lab. Testosterone was measured repeatedly from saliva in both members of each dyad and assayed using an enzymeimmunoassay. Participants completed questionnaires measuring perceived relationship commitment, support, satisfaction, and passion. This was collectively described as relationship compatibility. I revealed that participants in romantic relationships showed significant testosterone response to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Testosterone levels of the participant were moderated by testosterone levels of the supporter during the socialchallenge, such that the supporter’s response was coupled with their partner’s testosterone response to stress. When the couples reported high-compatibility, their testosterone profiles were more coupled than for couples reporting low-compatibility. Findings fit within the challenge hypothesis and extend it in interesting ways. Testosterone may help an individual confront a challenge, and, more interestingly, testosterone may help a couple confront a challenge together.


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