Testosterone-fuelled rides get male hormones revving
Doesn't matter who's watching, study says
In appraising their virility, men turn to a number of measurements. Turns out, at least one of them has an actual physiological basis - and it's not the one you'd think.
According to a new Canadian study, the car a young man drives can trigger an endocrinological response, with an older, high-mileage sedan leading to a slight deflation in testosterone and more exotic wheels spurring a significant increase in the sex hormone. Put simply, a man's machine affects his macho machinery.
What surprised researchers most, however, was that the latter result wasn't dependent on onlookers; drivers of expensive sports cars saw boosts in testosterone after cruising downtown streets and semi-deserted highways alike.
"The infusion of this incredibly potent social status signal was so great ... that the endocrinological response was substantial whether they had an audience or not," says study co-author Gad Saad, associate professor of marketing at Concordia University.
Male college students, whose median age was 24.7, spent an hour driving a $150,000 Porsche - 30 minutes downtown, surrounded by countless spectators, and 30 minutes on a highway with few observers.
They experienced the same conditions driving a "dilapidated" Toyota Camry with 300,000 kilometres on it.
According to researchers, endowing the men with a vehicle few people could afford tripped an endocrinological response - measured using saliva samples - mimicking the one elicited during competition for female mates. The older car had an inverse effect, though not significantly.
The study, to be published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, argues that there's biological basis for women's desire for mates with economic resources, citing academic investigations on the subject going back to 1945.
So, just as a peacock flaunts his feathers, the car becomes the male's sexual signal.
Larry Compeau, an associate professor of marketing at Clarkson University in New York, suspects hormones would similarly shoot up for all kinds of conspicuous consumption, and worries about the implications.
"For many people, having to wear something old or out of style to a public function would definitely bring some psychological blowback," says Compeau, an officer for the Society for Consumer Psychology.
"But looking to the extreme, do you really need a $10,000 briefcase to protect your vulnerability?"