Vol. 4, No. 2, 1998 Page 6


Research by James Dabbs and colleagues indicates that male prison inmates with high testosterone levels are more likely than other criminals to commit violent crimes and violate prison rules. However, the effects of testosterone on female criminals' behavior is not well understood-although a 1988 study by Dabbs et al. suggested a link between high testosterone levels and crimes of unprovoked violence committed by female prisoners.

To learn more about the effects of this "male" hormone, present in small amounts in females, Dabbs and colleagues recently measured saliva testosterone levels in 87 female inmates in a maximum security prison. The inmates ranged in age from 17 to 60, and Dabbs et al. studied the effects of both age and testosterone levels on the violence of crimes the subjects had committed, as well as the levels of aggressive dominant behavior they exhibited in prison.

The researchers say their data showed a direct link between testosterone and aggressively dominant behavior in prison. Further analysis, they say, indicated that increasing age is linked to reduced criminal violence and aggressive dominance in female prisoners "both directly and indirectly through lower levels of testosterone that come with age."

The researchers note that the five women with the lowest testosterone were said by prison staff members to be "sneaky" and "treacherous." Noting the well-established link between testosterone and dominance, the researchers say, "perhaps when dominant high testosterone inmates face confrontation, they can act openly and directly, [while] low testosterone inmates, because they are less dominant, need to be more `sneaky' in dealing with others."


"Age, testosterone, and behavior among female prison inmates," James M. Dabbs, Jr., and Marian F. Hargrove, Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol. 59, 1997, pp. 477-480. Address: James M. Dabbs, Jr., Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303.

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