Testosterone, cortisol, and serotonin as key regulators of social aggression: A review and theoretical perspective

Motiv Emot. 2012 Mar;36(1):65-73. doi: 10.1007/s11031-011-9264-3. Epub 2011 Nov 25.


In human and non-human animals the steroid hormones cortisol and testosterone are involved in social aggression and recent studies suggest that these steroids might jointly regulate this behavior. It has been hypothesized that the imbalance between cortisol and testosterone levels is predictive for aggressive psychopathology, with high testosterone to cortisol ratio predisposing to a socially aggressive behavioral style. In this review, we focus on the effects of cortisol and testosterone on human social aggression, as well as on how they might modulate the aggression circuitry of the human brain. Recently, serotonin is hypothesized to differentiate between impulsive and instrumental aggression, and we will briefly review evidence on this hypothesis. The aim of this article is to provide a theoretical framework for the role of steroids and serotonin in impulsive social aggression in humans.