Monday, January 13, 2014

Patriarchy and Testosterone

As promised in my last blog post, and building on what I wrote for my Module 1 discussion response, is the following topic about testosterone and dominance in men.  (Notably, a different kind of dominance occurs in women, but is linked with estradiol – an estrogen hormone, as well as varying levels of testosterone link).  In fact, this article link (and a separate 40 year scientific study) is a rather nice accompaniment to the concepts discussed by Reeser in the textbook.  

(It should not be under-emphasized that other hormones, such as those in the thyroid also play a significant role in the natural proclivity to dominate others; see my other post (link).  The import of these studies linking hormones to behavior is that behavior is causally determined (see my previous post (link) and that patriarchy is probably here to stay :( (That is, unless you could simultaneously create a massive social campaign and also dope all males with antiandrogens, without their knowledge – definitely an enticing possibility!! LOL).  – also would need to somehow avoid the unintentional side effect of causing gynocomastia, another LOL 

As this article (link) from Psychology Today shows, testosterone is associated with dominance, gaining higher social status, aggressive tendencies, competitiveness, and illegal social resistance (such as graffiti).  The article also discusses analogies to the role of testosterone in Game of Thrones (a TV series I unfortunately have not seen).  

A much more thorough, scientific paper published in the journal, “Behavioral and Brain Sciences,” better distinguishes what roles testosterone plays.  Like the Psychology Today article, this one points out that males also express power in nonaggressive ways (mirroring Reeser’s concept of “insidious power”).  Amazingly, this particular study collected data from U.S. Air Force veterans, over 40 years.  One key part of the study was collecting data on the relationship between basal T levels and marital relationships among men, in a sample of 2,100 U.S. Air Force veterans.  Not surprisingly, “…men with higher basal T levels are less likely to marry and more likely to divorce…”  The article also points out the relationship between environment and T levels (paralleling what I discussed about “nature vs. nurture in my previous blog post).  As is written in the article: “...that experience affects androgen secretion, the androgens affect behavior, the behavioral experience affects the androgen secretion, and so on.”

It’s really quite an amazing journal article, but it is so comprehensive in scope that it occupies 45 pages!!  Unfortunately, I cannot link you to the full article, as I only obtained it through the UCF Library academic journal search.  However, you can view the article abstract here: (Also available below from the clickable links)

Testosterone and Dominance in Men  (this journal article also happens to have an entire section on testosterone and women, despite its title)

Feminism and Behavioral Determinism

Before continuing to write on the subject of the biological influences on the behavior of men and women (and other genders), I wanted to write a follow-up post to my 1st post (link) about the role of the unconscious in influencing seemingly conscious behavior, decisions, and actions. (These are somewhat superfluous terms, since “behavioral science” encompasses each of these, but many people do not know this).  This is SO important, because this is a BIG subject area that seems totally absent from any dialogue about feminism.  Yet, it has HUGE implications.  We are, after all, talking about the brain, and every human has one!

Speaking of behavioral science, a category including psychology, psychobiology, and cognitive science (and by correlation, neuroscience), scientists now widely consider all human consciousness and unconsciousness to be governed entirely by neurochemistry. (Why this relates to theorizing masculinity or other genders, I will get to shortly).

This fact is probably surprising and troubling to you.  You may be thinking: 1) Does this mean I don’t have any free will?  2) Does this mean that gendered behavior has nothing to do with individual choice? 3) What does it mean to discuss feminist theories and how does activism play a role if neurochemistry is ultimately responsible? 

The short answer to the first questions is that, “No, you do not have free will, but you do have deliberation.”  The preponderance of evidence shows that the idea of dualism, the mind-body connection, where mind and body are separate (commonly known as Cartesian Dualism, though other forms of dualism exist), is false.  

 Some modern day thinkers have attempted to rescue the idea of free will, by proposing theories of “quantum consciousness.”  However, quantum consciousness fails on 2 counts: 1) Neurochemistry is too cold (low energy states) for quantum effects to occur; and 2) Even if quantum indeterminacy were to somehow take place in the brain, it is irrational to think that probabilities beyond our control give us any control over our thoughts.  However, even though behavior is thereby deterministic, there is still merit in “considering our decisions.”  In other words, even though consciousness is ultimately governed by physical processes alone, choosing to do nothing is a causally determined choice with different effects (except in rare cases of “local fatalism”).  There is no way to escape determinism.

In the debate between “nature vs. nurture,” behavioral determinism is not solely on the side of “nature.”  In fact, a necessary implication of a determined nature is a determined nurture.  The environment has every bit as much of a role to play in behavioral influences as does biology alone.  In other words, as our interaction is mediated by our biology, it influences the responses of others.  An interrelated field is the sociological theory of social constructivism (link).  (I would further argue that social constructivism intersects with Judith Butler’s theorizing about gender).

So, to answer the second question, “Yes, it is still meaningful to talk about gendered behavior and individual choice.”  However, while there are physical explanations for all behavior, scientists do not claim to know the causes of all behavior; merely that they do not originate from a self-made will.  The fact that you are not in reality the controller of your thoughts and actions does have some very interesting implications in culpability, in general, and legal culpability in specific.  If anyone is interested in this, I wrote a paper entitled: “Behavioral Determinism and Implications for Criminal Law.”  (The “deterrent” effect of the law is also related to social constructivism, mentioned prior).

Getting to the third question, “What does it mean to discuss feminist theories and how does activism play a role if neurochemistry is ultimately responsible?”  This is a huge question with huge implications that seems to me to be overlooked by all major feminist thinkers (of which I’m aware).  1) It means that disagreements between competing ideologies, while biologically determined, are not individually valid.  Morals have a biological basis, as evidenced in other species, called “evolutionary altruism.”  (Also absent from the usual feminist discourse is the entire field of epistemology – theory of knowledge).  (Sometimes I’m just really shocked about how “experts” seem to overlook such giant gaps in their theorizing.  In fact, this often leads to wildly crazy assertions to describe things – such as feminist author Elizabeth Grosz’s “Volatile Bodies.”) Note*** 2) Biological and social constructivist understandings have direct bearing on gendered social behavior and identification.  3) Activism is integral to change, as it is an instrument of social causality.      

There’s probably some other implications, but I fear I have already written too much and probably no one is going to have the patience to read this.  Still, it was necessary to write so much simply to allay criticism.

Note*** I suppose I shouldn’t be totally surprised that other authors do not have such extensive knowledge of other subject areas, despite feminist studies fundamentally being an interdisciplinary field.  Admittedly (and as my sources show), feminist scholars would require functional knowledge of the following subject areas: psychology, evolutionary psychology, psychobiology, cognitive science, sociology, neuroscience, quantum mechanics, philosophy, and legal theory.

>Becker, E. (1997). The denial of death. New York, NY: The Free Press.
>Dennett, D. C. (1984). Elbow room: The varieties of free will worth wanting. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
>Don, K. (2010, Oct. 17). “The moral landscape:” Why science should shape morality. Salon. Retrieved from
>Hameroff, S. R. (1998). Quantum computation in brain microtubules? The Penrose-Hameroff “Orch OR” model of consciousness. Philosophical Transactions Royal Society London (A), 356, 1869-1896. doi: 10.1098/rsta.1998.0254   
>Ruse, M. (1993). The significance of evolution. In P. Singer (Ed.), A companion to ethics (pp. 500-510). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
>Tegmark, M. (2000). The importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes. Physical Review E, 6, 4194-4206. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.61.4194
>Wade, N. (2007, March 20). Scientist finds the beginnings of morality in primate behavior. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Friday, January 10, 2014

A controversial view on rape by male and female scientists on both sides

I'm probably going to get slammed for even throwing this out there, but I've never been one shy to controversy.  I think we, humans, need to be extra cautious against groupthink and the "Concorde Fallacy" (in reference to Game Theory).  This article, appearing in The New York Times (to be referred to as NYT), discusses the debate between evolutionary scientists that male sexuality, not power and violence (or at least not entirely), is responsible for rape.  Even though this article is from 2000, I wanted to bring it up, because it seems to me that it relates to other topics I am composing for another blog post (soon to come) on the role of testosterone in dominance in men and women (from a 2012 article).  This particular post also draws from other more recent articles on the internet. I personally think rape is a bit of both sexuality and power and violence.  In fact, according to the NYT article, Susan Brownmiller (author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape), Brownmiller states that: "Feminists never said that rape had nothing to do with sex."

Further, Dr. Randy Thornhill and Dr. Craig T. Palmer, the "bad guys" who wrote the book, "A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Social Coercion," state that the way women dress "can put them at risk."  I guess I'm also a bad person because I tend to think that dress has sexual meanings for both males and females or those outside the gender binary.  Who hasn't heard of the saying that men in suits are sexy?  I think we are lying to ourselves if we say that dress has absolutely nothing to do with enticing others sexually. (But, as the CNN article below points out, men's brains connect this information to specific brain sites, not occurring in women's brains). As this blog, "The Lingerie Lesbian" writes about dress:

"What is a man in a suit? He is dressed for a formal occasion; his clothing is associated with money, class and business. In society, a man in a suit is powerful and a decision maker: if you look at the President, the members of Congress or Fortune 500 CEOs, you will likely seem them in suits. It’s also attire you wear in public, signaling that you are someone who is deserves respect. It’s impossible, then, to separate the sex appeal of suits mentioned in this meme from the connotation of power and formality." - from "The Lingerie Lesbian" - Men in Suits, Women in Lingerie: The Power Dynamics of Lingerie and Gender. 

Also, I think this article from also contributes to this discussion: "Men see bikini-clad women as objects, psychologists say."  In the article, it is written:

"New research shows that, in men, the brain areas associated with handling tools and the intention to perform actions light up when viewing images of women in bikinis."

"Although consistent with conventional wisdom, the way that men may depersonalize sexual images of women is not entirely something they control. In fact, it's a byproduct of human evolution, experts say. The first male humans had an incentive to seek fertile women as the means of spreading their genes.

"'They're not fully conscious responses, and so people don't know the extent to which they're being influenced," Fiske said. "It's important to recognize the effects.'"

Although you might be thinking these are just misogynistic excuses created by men, it is noteworthy to point out that both this article, and the study conducted at Princeton University, were by women.

Returning to the main topic, and in consideration of these 2 other sources (which are a mere sampling of studies and views bearing significance on this subject), I really don't think one can easily quantify male rape of women as fully "this" or fully "that."  I think people tend to react harshly to deterministic "explanations" of rape because they view it as "irresponsible" (in the NYT article), and as "giving permission" for an unquestionably atrocious crime against another person.

But, if we are to really examine and create efficacious interventions to stop men from raping, I think this controversy is also unquestionably valuable.


Difference in behavioral effects of hormones on thyroid functioning in males and females. A comparison between humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos.

Bonobos stay young longer

Following my somewhat vague speculations in my last post, I found several articles discussing emerging research in behavioral genetics about the significance of sex hormones in affecting thyroid development and contributing to notable behavioral differences between sexes.  There is also speculation that such neurochemical differences may also exist in the brains of other gendered individuals, though experimental evidence of this is currently lacking.

In this particular article, a key difference in the role of the thyroid hormones Triiodthyronin (T3) and Thyroxin (T4) was found to play a role in several behavioral differences between male and females in the closest relatives to humans; chimpanzees and bonobos.   While chimpanzees and bonobos experience a similar setting and behavioral patterns early in life, in adulthood differences in thyroid hormones indicate the role the thyroid plays in regulating behavior.   The major difference between bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans is that bonobos continue to have high levels of thyroid hormones after puberty, where instead chimpanzees and humans both experience a reduction in hormone levels. 

As a result of elevated levels of hormones in adulthood:  “Male bonobos are less aggressive, engage in lasting friendships with females and receive life-long support from their mothers. In contrast, the social network of male chimpanzees consists of a mixture of male-male cooperation and aggressive behavioural [sic] strategies in males that aim on gaining and maintaining high social status.  The consequence is that the two sister species live in different social systems.”

Further, male bonobos were found to have even higher thyroid levels than females, and that female bonobos preferred “thyroid hormone ‘doped’ mates.” Speculating from my own knowledge, It is perhaps possible to speculate then that trends in natural selection differ between bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans (since it plays a role in mate selection).  Therefore, trends of male dominance are genetically selected by the process of evolution in humans and chimpanzees.     

I would further speculate that even though non-humans arguably do not possess metacognition, as humans do, the role of metacognition is likely offset significantly by neurochemistry and the role of the unconscious.  Take for example, the thyroid’s known influence on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the vital role psychotropic medicine plays in moderating ADHD.

Bonobos Stay Young Longer
Behavioral Issues with Thyroiditis