• SumoMe

A recent article in the New York Times details a recent study which found a correlation between men who pursue active roles as fathers are have lower testosterone levels than those who choose not to take on this role:

“The real take-home message,” said Peter Ellison, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard who was not involved in the study, is that “male parental care is important. It’s important enough that it’s actually shaped the physiology of men.”

“Unfortunately,” Dr. Ellison added, “I think American males have been brainwashed” to believe lower testosterone means that “maybe you’re a wimp, that it’s because you’re not really a man.

“My hope would be that this kind of research has an impact on the American male. It would make them realize that we’re meant to be active fathers and participate in the care of our offspring.”

The study, experts say, suggests that men’s bodies evolved hormonal systems that helped them commit to their families once children were born. It also suggests that men’s behavior can affect hormonal signals their bodies send, not just that hormones influence behavior. And, experts say, it underscores that mothers were meant to have child care help.  –Pam Belluck, New York Times, “In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone.

What is most interesting to me is how the researchers pointed out the idea of actions influencing chemistry, rather than chemistry influencing actions. Most of the time, we tend to assert that levels of chemicals in our bodies influence our actions or qualities. For instance, a male with more testosterone is more “manly” in that they have chest hair, bigger muscles, or deeper voices. However, this study appears to stand for the proposition that the choice for a man to partake in child rearing (or not) influences testosterone levels.

Additionally, the New York Times does a good job of devaluing the assumption that testosterone levels dictate manliness. There is nothing more manly than putting someone else’s needs before your own, and child rearing is one of the most valuable forms of manliness. The popular maxim is that motherhood is biology, fatherhood is choice. While that may still remain true, this study may tweak the old adage by adding the proposition that fatherhood is biological insomuch as a male’s chemistry is tied to the choice of fatherhood.