Exogenous testosterone affects early threat processing in socially anxious and healthy women

Biol Psychol. 2017 Oct:129:82-89. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.08.003. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


Testosterone plays an important role in social threat processing. Recent evidence suggests that testosterone administration has socially anxiolytic effects, but it remains unknown whether this involves early vigilance or later, more sustained, processing-stages. We investigated the acute effects of testosterone administration on social threat processing in 19 female patients with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and 19 healthy controls. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded during an emotional Stroop task with subliminally presented faces. Testosterone induced qualitative changes in early ERPs (<200ms after stimulus onset) in both groups. An initial testosterone-induced spatial shift reflected a change in the basic processing (N170/VPP) of neutral faces, which was followed by a shift for angry faces suggesting a decrease in early threat bias. These findings suggest that testosterone specifically affects early automatic social information processing. The decreased attentional bias for angry faces explains how testosterone can decrease threat avoidance, which is particularly relevant for SAD.

Keywords: Emotional stroop; Event-related potentials; Social anxiety; Social threat; Testosterone.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Androgens / administration & dosage*
  • Anger
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / drug effects*
  • Facial Recognition / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phobia, Social / drug therapy*
  • Phobia, Social / psychology
  • Stroop Test
  • Testosterone / administration & dosage*
  • Young Adult


  • Androgens
  • Testosterone