It’s little known – but not uncommon – for new fathers to experience a bit of hormonal havoc postpartum. But according to research, no matter how seemingly disruptive, it’s actually in aid of making men better – at being dads, that is.
Research suggests that a dip in testosterone levels, typical after the birth of a baby, can heighten a dad’s ability for effective decision-making.
“For new dads, it could be that reduced T decreases mental risk taking, which is adaptive for taking care of newborns,” Colin Camerer, a behavioural economist and lead author of the hormone study, explains.
For the study, 243 men were asked to self-apply a topical gel containing either testosterone or a placebo. They then completed the Cognitive Reflection Test – designed to evaluate how well they could suppress instinctive responses and opt for careful, considered judgement calls instead.
While taking testosterone had no effect on basic mathematic skills, cognitive test scores indicated that higher levels of the hormone ramped up the tendency to provide answers quicker on the draw, and less correct – around 20 per cent less correct than those men on placebo.
For Camerer and his research team, the findings “suggest a mechanism underlying testosterone’s diverse effects on humans’ judgments and decision-making.”
In short, a hulking bulk of testosterone may be good for beating off predators in the wild, but when it comes to First World parenting dilemmas like how to negotiate with a despot toddler or how to swaddle a newborn without waking it and its fury, a less macho (read: more delicate), and more measured, approach will probably get you further.