Robb Willer, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, and colleagues enlisted 54 undergraduate men at the University of Iowa who took a gender identity survey about their assertiveness or other qualities typically associated with masculinity or femininity.
They were then given feedback the men believed was based on the survey but in fact was random. Some of the men were told their answers indicated more feminine traits, others were told their answers indicated more masculine behavior. They were surveyed again on a variety of political and cultural views.
The men's saliva was collected at different points in the study to test for testosterone levels.
The study, published in the American Journal of Sociology, found higher testosterone men showed greater increases on masculine attitudes such as support for war and negative views of homosexuality after being told their answers indicated more feminine traits. Lower testosterone men showed no effects when similarly threatened, the study found.
"Masculine overcompensation in men appears to be driven by men with moderate to high testosterone levels," Willer said in a statement. "Their levels of support for war and homophobia practically doubled on the scale that we measured them on, where lower testosterone men were unaffected by threats."
Willer said the results do not suggest men with higher testosterone were always more aggressive, but the relationship between testosterone and macho behavior showed itself when triggered by a threat or provocation.
"However, when not threatened, we saw no differences in the attitudes of men with different testosterone levels," Willer said.