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Political Contests as Dominance Struggles

Perhaps it's not surprising that people take political results personally. We come to identify with our favored candidate—and sometimes to revile their opponent. When our party wins, we are elated; we it loses, we become dejected. Now a group of researchers has discovered that election results actually have a real physiological effect on us. Analyzing the saliva of voters on election night in 2008, they found that the testosterone levels of men who voted for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fell by more than 25%, while the testosterone levels of men who voted for Barack Obama stayed the same. Female voters testosterone levels stayed the same, possibly because their testosterone levels are normally lower and generally don't fluctuate as much.

Scientists have found a similar phenomenon among male video gamers: the winner's testosterone levels rise, while the loser's levels drop. They speculate that the changes in testosterone levels, which are linked to aggression and risk-taking, may encourage the winners in a struggle to press their advantage, while keeping the losers from continuing to fight and risking injury. As Steven Stanton, the lead author of the study, explains, "Voters participate in elections both directly by casting their ballots, and vicariously because they don’t personally win or lose the election. This makes democratic political elections highly unique dominance contests."

But if McCain supporters were hanging their heads after Barack Obama's victory, they effect is only temporary. Their side may have lost, but they will be back to fight another day.

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