Re: Evolution, aggression, and men: Hormones matter?

Whittet (
26 Jul 1995 13:51:59 GMT

In article <>, says...
>> (Greg Stevens) writes:
>>>In <3uh7b7$> (Bryant) writes:
>>>>Greg Stevens <> wrote:
>>>>>irritability. But here cause and effect is interestingly tangled.
>>>>>If increasing testosterone has the effect of inhibiting noradrenergic
>>>>>activity, and dominance increases testosterone, then it could be that
>>>>>rather than the perspective "noradrenergic activity leads to aggression"
>>>>>it may be more informative to say "noradrenergic activity leads to
>>>>>the desire to be calmed, and one channel for this is via dominance leading
>>>>>to testosterone-induced inhibition of noradrenergic activity."
>>>>If dominance is a given once obtained, this makes sense. If, however,
>>>>dominance is challenged often, achieving it is not a good technique of
>>>>soothing one's nerves.
>>>Well, societies develop into established status-heirarchies, and in
>>>primates of all kinds (humans included) status seems to be correlated
>>>with both inversely to some degree with noradrenergic activity and
>>>directly to some degree with testosterone. It can be hypothesized that
>>>the stability of such heirarchies would be reinforced through feedback --
>>>successful dominance -> testosterone increase -> noradrenergic decrease ->
>>>calm & confidence -> higher probability of successful dominance.
>>>This, plus social reinforcers of status. Thus, in a somewhat stable
>>>heirarchy, an individual may be observed to "pick on" members of lower
>>>status while NOT using this mechanism against members of higher status.
>>>This preferencial-picking-on has been observed.
>>The behavioral pharmacology of the above is a bit oversimplified;
>>however, as an addendum...decreases in the neurotransmitter in the
>>brain lead to depression and an upregulation of the noadrenergic
>>receptors in most systems I'm familiar with. So I would not equate
>>calm with depression by the above scheme. It is interesting to
>>speculate on whether the "top dog" once it has attained this status
>>becomes depressed: no more fighting to get to the top, only fighting
>>to stay there?
>I recognize that my description of the behavioral pharmacology is simplified,
>but I do the best I can between 1) my understanding and 2) having a
>conversation about it on the internet. :-)
>I am intrigued by what you say above, and want to make sure I understand
>what you are saying. In my understanding, depression is usually correlated
>with HIGH levels of cortisol and norepinephrine, where the receptors have
>upregulated to a higher resting level of NE and therefore have lowered
>dynamic responsivity. BUT, I know that my info on this comes mainly from
>trauma literature, so this may not be true of "depression in general."
>Do you know anything about this distinction? My understanding, based on
>the trauma literature, was that one way to physiologically differentiate
>"depression" and "calm" was that "calm" is lowered noradrenergic activity
>and autonomic nervous system activity, while "depression" is high noradren-
>ergic activity which has been adapted to, rsulting in abnormally low
>autonomic nervous system activity. I was under the impression that this
>is what led Panksepp to classify depression as a kind of hyperarousal.
>Greg Stevens
Although I don't know much about the highly technical aspects of
the chemistry of the brain, the issues raised here are interesting.
In particular, what causes irritability?

The phenomenology of some usenet flame wars as an example of the
sociological effects; dominence, reinforcement, status, hierarchies,
number of communications; etc and the apparently interactive causuality
of the nervous systems pharmacopia might be worth looking at.

Before entering that area, however, I would like to quickly touch on
the nerve hormones involved. I have read that different levels of two
nerve hormones nor-epinepherine and serotonin result in different
responses to stimula, as opposed to being caused by them.

I had been of the impression that the hormonal levels were essentially
genetic and might even influence the attitudes and values with which
our personalities are formed.

A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly suggested that peoples
personality and behavior is influenced by their relative levels
of nor-epinepherine and serotonin. Those with relatively low levels
of the hormones short of the point of incapacitating depression,tend
to be social, higly verbal and to look for security in adherence to laws
according to the article, while those with higher levels tend to be
aggressive, risk taking, physicaly active types who look for freedom
as a state of being without limits.

In our society as a whole, it should not be a great suprise that the
first group contains most of the lawmakers and the second most of the
criminals. Perhaps one reason is that it is the first group which has
made the definitions, although there may be more to this than just
labeling theory and relative levels of frustration and irritibility.

I note the same phenomena applies in usenet conversations. If we define
a crime as the breaking of a law,(norm, more, rule, netiquette) and
observe that most laws attempt to preserve either the security of
institutionaled morality, (in this case academic prestige) or the
security of property (academic credentials) or of physical well being,
(hierarchical status) what we are really doing with the laws
(moderated groups and net censorship) we make, is to assist the
first group in frustrating the second.

I observe the interaction of these relative traits in the disputes of
entrenched intellectual academia with the influx of new users often
seems to cause frustration and irritability on both sides.

I think it is this frustration which leads to attempts at dominence
and perhaps aggression. Expanding from the observed phenomena of
usenet flamewars to society in general and the relative interactive
emotive effects of these reactions on the bodies pharmacopia, it is
worth noting that most of the criminals incarcerated in our prisons
today have a history of involvement with chemicals which perhaps
suggests a higher reactivity in those individuals with higher levels
of the hormones.

If it is the effects of their succesful achievemnt of high status or
dominence of a hierarchy which increase their levels of these two nerve
hormones, an important factor might be the reinforcement of behavior
by the experiences which create the sense of identity and temperment.