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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 204

Carole Hooven on T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us

T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us (book cover)

Since antiquity―from the eunuchs in the royal courts of ancient China to the booming market for “elixirs of youth” in 19th-century Europe — humans have understood that typically masculine behavior depends on testicles, the main source of testosterone in males. Which sex has the highest rates of physical violence, hunger for status, and desire for a high number of sex partners? Just follow the testosterone. Although we humans can study and reflect on our own behavior, we are also animals, the products of millions of years of evolution. Fascinating research on creatures from chimpanzees to spiny lizards shows how high testosterone helps males out-reproduce their competitors. And men are no exception.

While most people agree that sex differences in human behavior exist, they disagree about the reasons. But the science is clear: testosterone is a potent force in human society, driving the bodies and behavior of the sexes apart. But, as Hooven shows in T, it does so in concert with genes and culture to produce a vast variety of male and female behavior. And, crucially, the fact that many sex differences are grounded in biology provides no support for restrictive gender norms or patriarchal values. In understanding testosterone, we better understand ourselves and one another — and how we might build a fairer, safer society.

Carole Hooven, PhD, is lecturer and codirector of undergraduate studies in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard, studying sex differences and testosterone, and has taught there ever since. Hooven has received numerous teaching awards, and her popular Hormones and Behavior class was named one of the Harvard Crimson’s “top ten tried and true.” Follow Carole on Twitter @hoovlet.

Shermer and Hooven discuss:

  • Hooven’s nontraditional career path into biological anthropology,
  • the anthropology wars: biological vs. cultural anthropology,
  • cognitive creationism, the blank slate, and T skeptics who think human behavior
  • the chemistry, biology, and neurobiology of T,
  • Why do we have testosterone and estrogen?
  • T and steroids, human growth hormones, and other performance enhancing drugs,
  • Are we more like chimps or bonobos?
  • The question is not why we’re so violent, but why we’re not even more violent.
  • the self-domestication theory,
  • gender differences in cognition and career interests (Lawrence Summers, Jamie Damore),
  • gender differences in aggression and violence,
  • gender differences in sexual psychology and preferences,
  • confusing scientific findings with moral values,
  • T and Trans,
  • trans and sports,
  • #metoo and why men behave badly and what can be done about it,
  • implication of T for political, social, and cultural issues.

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This episode was released on August 28, 2021.

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