An Exploratory Analysis of Testosterone, Cortisol, and Aggressive Behavior Type in Men and Women

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Increasing evidence indicates that the interaction between testosterone and cortisol is associated with variation in aggressive behavior. However, results are mixed. The current study further explored the association between testosterone, cortisol, and both reactive and proactive aggression in a large sample of university students. Models considered direct and interactive effects between baseline measures of testosterone and cortisol as well as change in hormones in response to a social stressor. In women, baseline cortisol had a negative direct association with reactive aggression and was further associated with reactive aggression in interaction with baseline testosterone (positive interaction). Hormones were unrelated to reactive aggression in men. Baseline cortisol had a negative direct association with proactive aggression in women. In contrast, the association between change in cortisol and proactive aggression was positive. Cortisol was not associated with proactive aggression in men. In addition, testosterone was not related to proactive aggression either directly or in interaction with cortisol in either men or women. Collectively, these results show that the association between hormones and aggression varies across aggressive behavior type and across sex.