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Are Men’s Religious Ties Hormonally Regulated?

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Studies based on the “challenge hypothesis” have linked men’s androgens—testosterone and DHEA—to short term mating and antisocial behaviors. Causal direction at a given stage of the life cycle remains ambiguous. Religion is a major social institution through which actions violating social norms are controlled. Thus, ties to this institution may be lower among men with higher androgen levels. The present study queried these linkages.


Data were from the 2005–2006 and 2010–2011 waves of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), a national probability sample of older U.S. adults. Analysis was through autoregressive cross-lagged panel models (minimum N = 1071).


Higher baseline levels of both testosterone and DHEA prospectively predicted religious ties, whether measured through attendance at services or network connections to clergy. Moreover, contrary to arguments of sociocultural modulation of androgens, the pattern of associations was most consistent with hormonal causation of religious connections. Results were robust to a range of time invariant and time varying confounders, including demographics, hormone supplements, and physical health.


Findings add to the growing evidence that religiosity may have physiological and not simply psychosocial roots. Implications for hormonal confounding of previously published religion-deviance linkages, and for neuroendocrine underpinnings of population-level social and cultural patterns, are discussed.

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