Hormones, Sex and Personality Type
by Dario Nardi
Understanding hormones helps us decipher the relationship between type and gender. [“Gender” is cultural while “sex” is biological.] We often associate hormones with adolescence, midlife and monthly cycles. However, the greatest influence on sex* is in the womb as the brain and body of the fetal boy or girl is developing. There are over eighty known hormones. Almost all affect personality. At least seven vary greatly with gender. In many cases, type influences how we respond to our genetic heritage. In other cases, our hormones influence type expression. I focus here on four noteworthy hormones: testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin and oxytocin.
Testosterone Men produce ten times more testosterone than women, so even low testosterone men have more than any woman. Physically, it generates male traits such as body hair and baldness. Psychologically, testosterone promotes:
In women, testosterone is higher in careerists compared to at-home mothers, and women's visual test scores increase when given testosterone.
Beginning in midlife, a man’s testosterone drops and the small amount of estrogen produced by his adrenal glands inhibits aggressive behavior. Incidentally, the adrenal glands also produce hormones like adrenaline that promote strength, endurance and fight-or-flight behavior. Adrenal output is three times higher in men.
Estrogen Estrogen is a female hormone that cycles monthly. Women have much more than men, so even low estrogen women have more than any man. Physically, estrogen generates female traits such as breasts and larger hips. Natural estrogen prevents many degenerative diseases. When it peaks, estrogen improves sleep, skin, odor, memory, and sensory acuity. Psychologically, estrogen promotes:
Humans are “naturally female.” Testosterone and related hormones masculinize boys in the womb, “lateralizing” the male brain into specialized compartments. In contrast, estrogen promotes neuron interconnections for a more distributed female brain. This effect is strongest in children but even late in life women recover faster from strokes because of this. Related to type, Steve Myer’s research suggests women make use of all function-attitudes more equally while men make heavier use of particular function-attitudes.
Vasopressin is made in the brain. Both men and women make it. However, the male hormone testosterone synergizes with vasopressin – the two greatly enhance each other. A woman and man might have equal levels of vasopressin but the man experiences stronger effects.
Physically, vasopressin causes water retention and high blood pressure; high levels may increase forehead size.
Personality wise, vasopressin influences male social and sexual behavior, public communication, and paternal behavior. In animals (mammals), it promotes aggression, territorial competition and dominance with other males. It bonds males to mates and children. For men, it also promotes partner recognition, sexual arousal, courtship behavior, monogamy, pair bonding and mate guarding.
Vasopressin also improves cognitive ability by enhancing memory. It allows one to feel separate, with dampened emotional responses and more “sensible” or “reasonable” behavior. Depressed people also have higher vasopressin.
Oxytocin is made in the brain. Both women and men make it. However, the female hormone estrogen synergizes with oxytocin – the two greatly enhance each other. A man and women might have equal levels of oxytocin but the woman experiences stronger effects.
Physically, oxytocin facilitates childbirth and nursing for women. In both sexes, it increases by five-fold during sex. In men, however, it immediately drops and vasopressin rises sharply right afterward - explaining why men generally feel a sudden sense of separateness!
Personality wise, oxytocin promotes touching, affection and bonding. In both men and women it rises instantly with a single touch. Oxytocin also influences female social behavior. It promotes “nesting“; monogamy and pair bonding; the nurturing, acceptance and protection of offspring; and pup-retrieval in animals. It influences mate selection. Many of these effects are confirmed in humans as well as animals.
For all its positive benefits, high oxytocin inhibits cognitive ability by impairing learning and memory. It encourages emotional extremes but it also prevents depression.
Great thanks to Laura Power, PhD. Also, thank you Lenore Thomson, Steve Myers, Carolyn Barnes, Peter Geyer and Barbara Brown.
First Appeared in: Bulletin of Psychological Type, Volume 26, No 4, 2003