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NU research into male aggression and misread emotions

New research at Nipissing University could help unlock the reasons why some men seem unable to read emotions from basic facial cues.

The research, led by Dr. Justin Carré, assistant professor of psychology at Nipissing, examines the role testosterone plays in a person’s ability to read other’s emotions.  Researchers administered testosterone to male test subjects and then showed them a series of pictures depicting only a person’s eyes, asking them to identify the emotion the individual in the picture was experiencing.  The test, called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task, is a classic psychological testing model.

People who score high on tests measuring psychopathy typically have higher testosterone and score very low on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task; which is not surprising given that those with psychopathic traits tend to lack empathy. Women typically score much better than men in the task.

Carré and his team wanted to discover what role testosterone plays in reading emotions through visual clues.

They administered a single dose of testosterone or placebo (double-blind, counter-balanced, within subject design) to 30 healthy young men and then assessed performance on the RMET. They found that testosterone on its own had no effect on performance. However, testosterone significantly impaired performance among those scoring relatively low on psychopathic traits. People scoring relatively high on psychopathic traits performed poorly on the RMET regardless of whether they received testosterone or placebo.

“We found that a short term increase in testosterone on its own is not sufficient to impair one’s ability to read emotion; but when the administration of testosterone is considered with psychopathic traits, it interfered with a person’s ability to read another person’s face for emotional cues for those people who are normally very good at reading emotions,” said Carré.  “This helps to provide a clearer picture of how testosterone affects basic face perception in men and highlights the importance of considering individual differences in personality traits when assessing the causal role that testosterone plays in modulating human social cognition. Research in the lab is now exploring how a single application of testosterone may influence more complex processes such as aggression and risk-taking.”

The research is published in the December issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology. Two of Dr. Carré’s psychology honour’s thesis students, Triana Ortiz and Brandy Labine, are co-authors on this research. The medical components of the study were supervised by Dr. Bernard Goldfarb and his team. The research is funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant awarded to Dr. Carré.

You can access the full article, here.

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