Tag Archives: Testosterone as a Social Inhibitor: Two Case Studies of the Effect of Testosterone Treatment on Language

Brevity and the man

10 Feb

Sometimes you fellas amaze me. You amaze me because so many of you are tight-lipped about things that I would be all gushy over. My clients amaze me most of all.

The men I work come to me when they’re ready to step it up, so they’re already excited about changing. They’re generally talkative and ask questions as they undergo the image transformation. We discuss all sorts of things from shaving cream to whether or not to cuff their trousers. There’s lots of chatter and sharing and laughing and hanging out during the process but when we’re finished the physical work, the verbage just dries up. Let me explain.

With face time over, I prepare a digital file for each client, documenting the individual’s transformation: colour information, body and wardrobe notes, photographs, my analysis, and the visual results. I email these notes to the client when they’re ready. It’s a pretty good system.

Oh, and that was my left brain speaking just there.

“I’m creative and I’m intuitive and I pour in a little soul with my meditations and reflections,” says my right brain of the client notes. I’m starting to wonder if I become emotionally attached to the creation of these notes because I always feel somewhat deflated when the client responds to the multi-page document, full of soul and observation, with a brief “thanks” or “that’s cool”.

As a woman, I want you to talk to me,  I want the details, I want to know how you feel. Then I remember who I’m dealing with: straight men.

The male brain

Deborah Blum, in Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women, says that in brain hemispheric theory, men rely on one hemisphere or another when doing a task. “By comparison,” she says, “women use both. In tests involving word selection, women recorded activity in both hemispheres. Most of the men – there are always exceptions – showed increase only in the left hemisphere.”

(The left hemisphere of the brain is the side that keeps order, uses reason and logic, conceives time, and is also associated with the masculine. The right hemisphere, associated with the feminine, is intuitive, creative, looks for patterns, and understands non-verbal communication.)

Dr. Louann Brizendine is one of my favourite scientists. Her specialty is neurobiology and she’s done some fascinating research on male and female brains (fellas, if you want to understand women better, please read The Female Brain).

Brizendine suggests that in Y-chromosoned embryos, “eight weeks after conception, the tiny male testicles begin to produce enough testosterone to marinate the brain and fundamentally alter its structure.”

Several processing areas of the male brain are affected by the testosterone surge, enlarging some areas and shrinking others. It should come as no surprise that the communication, observation, and emotional processing centres are the three main areas that shrink in the testosterone shower, so male verbal abilities (compared to female verbal abilities) are compromised before they’re born.  We’ll talk about what testosterone makes bigger another week.

Testosterone affects all areas of a man’s life from the degree of his monogamy, to his aggression, emotional memory, and his communication

In a 2004 Journal of Abnormal Psychology study, James M. Dabbs et al, measured the relationship of testosterone levels with written language for 1 -2 year period with two people in testosterone treatment: a man with a loss of upper body strength, and a female-to-male transgendered individual.  Ultimately, the study concluded that “higher testosterone levels correlated with reduced use of words related to social connections.”

The study’s statistical results showed really interesting patterns in word usage frequency:

1. Increase in the aggressive, dominant, and sexual language category (“hate”, “kill”, swear words; terms of achievement, money, sports; “penis”, “sensual”), in spatial thinking terms (“area”, “up”), and in action-oriented words (“will”, “certain”).

2. Decrease in social verbal connections (pronouns and esp. female pronouns, communication verbs like “share” and “say”), reasoning (6+ letter words, “know”, “think”),  and feeling (“happy”, “love”, “joy”, worry”, “cry”, “touch”, “I”).

Interestingly, the the few feeling words that did increase had to do with optimism (“energy”) and negativity (“ugly”).

(“Testosterone as a Social Inhibitor: Two Case Studies of the Effect of Testosterone Treatment on Language”: Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2004, Vol. 113, No. 1, 172-175.)

So we have all of this interesting scientific data about testosterone affecting men’s neurology and communication, and then Jed Diamond comes along and puts it into more understandable terms: “when a man becomes emotional, he is more likely to express it physically. A woman is more comfortable expressing her feelings verbally. He wants to go out and pound something. She wants to talk it out.” (The Irritable Male Syndrome.)

Looking at men from this perspective makes things different, doesn’t it? What an interesting link between my client’s brief thank you messages, testosterone, and male brain function. Makes a little more sense now.

The gay brain

Something different happens when I send the follow up notes to my gay clients. They quickly come right out and dish about how the changes make them feel and  how fantastic they feel in their clothes. I feel good that I was able to help and I understand how I helped; this is what my female brain craves and my gay clients gratify me this way.

Gay male brains are said to be more similar to heterosexual female brains in terms of size and components – i.e. the amygdala, (pronounced a-MIG-dala) the ancient brain center that regulates emotion, and a slightly larger right hemisphere. Most of the gay men that I’ve ever met have been expressive like women are expressive, even the leather fetish men, the biggest teddy bears of them all.

For a really interesting article on the gay brain, check this Washington Post article.

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It could very well be that testosterone prevents men from articulating, though there will always be exceptions, like my straight 18-year old client who filled every moment with words.

Now that I understand testosterone as a verbal and social inhibitor to greater and lesser degrees in (str8) men, I’m gratified again because now I can appreciate their brief bullet pointed remarks as boiled down versions of the wonderful and detailed responses from my gay clients.

If I’m right, that’s a pretty cool translation.