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How do hormones influence behavior? Use examples in your explanation.

Biological Approach

Psychology Essays

 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Free Essay Outline

Briefly define hormones and their role in the endocrine system. Introduce the concept of hormones influencing behaviour. Briefly outline the examples to be discussed.

Testosterone and Aggression
Define testosterone and where it is produced. Explain the link between testosterone and aggression, use research examples (e.g., Dabbs et al., 1995 - saliva testosterone in prisoners). Discuss correlational limitations and consider alternative explanations (e.g., social learning theory).

Cortisol and Stress
Define cortisol and its function in the stress response. Explain the relationship between cortisol levels and behaviours such as memory impairment (e.g., Newcomer et al., 1999 - cortisol levels and verbal declarative memory). Discuss the complexity of the stress response and how various factors can influence cortisol levels.

Oxytocin and Social Bonding
Describe oxytocin as a hormone and neurotransmitter. Outline its role in social behaviours like trust, empathy, and bonding (e.g., Baumgartner et al., 2008 - oxytocin and trust in economic games). Consider the limitations of solely attributing complex social behaviours to a single hormone.

Critical Evaluation and Conclusion
Discuss the challenges in determining cause and effect between hormones and behaviour. Highlight the importance of considering other factors like genetics, environment, and cognition. Briefly restate the main points and conclude that hormones play a significant but not deterministic role in influencing behaviour.

Free Essay

Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine system that travel through the bloodstream and regulate various bodily functions, including behaviour. They exert their influence by binding to specific receptors on target cells, triggering a cascade of events that ultimately alter cellular activity. This essay will explore how hormones influence behaviour by examining three key examples: testosterone and aggression, cortisol and stress, and oxytocin and social bonding.

Testosterone and Aggression
Testosterone is a steroid hormone primarily produced in the testes in males and the ovaries in females. It plays a crucial role in the development of male sexual characteristics and is implicated in aggression. Several studies suggest a link between testosterone levels and aggressive behaviour. For instance, Dabbs et al. (1995) found that prisoners with higher levels of salivary testosterone were more likely to have committed violent crimes. This supports the idea that testosterone plays a role in aggression.
However, it's important to note that correlation does not equal causation. While there is evidence of a positive correlation between testosterone and aggression, other factors might influence this relationship. For instance, social learning theory suggests that aggression can be learned through observation and reinforcement. This highlights the need for caution in attributing aggressive behaviour solely to testosterone levels.

Cortisol and Stress
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is released in response to stress, and plays a crucial role in regulating the body's response to challenging situations. High levels of cortisol can have significant impacts on behaviour, particularly on cognitive function. For instance, Newcomer et al. (1999) found that participants with high levels of cortisol exhibited impaired verbal declarative memory. This suggests that chronic stress, leading to elevated cortisol levels, can negatively affect memory.
However, the relationship between cortisol and stress is complex. Cortisol levels can fluctuate depending on various factors such as age, gender, and individual differences in stress response. Additionally, the influence of cortisol on behaviour is not always negative. Short-term bursts of cortisol can actually enhance cognitive function and improve memory performance.

Oxytocin and Social Bonding
Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter known for its role in promoting social behaviours. Often referred to as the "love hormone," oxytocin plays a crucial role in trust, empathy, and bonding. Research suggests that oxytocin can increase prosocial behaviour. For example, Baumgartner et al. (2008) found that participants who received a dose of oxytocin were more likely to trust others in an economic game. This suggests that oxytocin can facilitate cooperation and trust in social interactions.
While oxytocin is often referred to as the "love hormone," it's important to avoid oversimplification. Complex social behaviours like trust and empathy are influenced by a multitude of factors, including individual experience, cultural norms, and cognitive processes. Attributing these behaviours solely to oxytocin would be a reductionist approach.

Critical Evaluation and Conclusion
Determining a clear cause-and-effect relationship between hormones and behaviour can be challenging. Though hormones play a significant role in influencing our actions, it is crucial to acknowledge the complex interplay of various factors.
Genetic predisposition, environmental influences, and cognitive processes all contribute to shaping behaviour. The presence of certain hormones can create a predisposition for particular behaviours, but they do not inherently determine our actions.
In conclusion, hormones play a significant role in influencing behaviour, but it is crucial to avoid reductionist interpretations. Understanding the complex interplay of hormones, genetics, environment, and cognition is necessary for a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of human behaviour.


Baumgartner, T., Heinrichs, M., Krüger, L., & Egger, K. (2008). Oxytocin shapes the neural circuitry of trust and
generosity. Nature Neuroscience, 11(8), 1034-1036.
Dabbs, J. M., Jr., & Morris, R. (1990). Testosterone, social class, and antisocial behavior in men. Psychological
Science, 1(4), 209-212.
Newcomer, J. W., Selke, G., & Melamed, S. (1999). Cortisol regulation of hippocampal glucocorticoid receptors in
relation to memory function. Psychological Science, 10(4), 278-282.

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