A large body of research links testosterone and cortisol to male-male competition. Yet, little work has explored acute steroid hormone responses to coalitional, physical competition during middle childhood. Here, we investigate testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androstenedione, and cortisol release among ethnically Chinese boys in Hong Kong (N = 102), aged 8-11 years, during a soccer match (n = 84) and an intrasquad soccer scrimmage (n = 81), with 63 participants competing in both treatments. The soccer match and intrasquad soccer scrimmage represented out-group and in-group treatments, respectively. Results revealed that testosterone showed no measurable change. DHEA increased during both treatments in the majority of participants and the degree of change had no relation to independent variables (e.g., performance, age, treatment, outcome) or covariate measures (Body Mass Index, Pubertal Development Scale). Most boys experienced androstenedione increases during match play, but no significant differences during the intrasquad soccer scrimmage competitions. The magnitude of change differed significantly between treatments and was positively associated with age. These latter findings suggest boys' androstenedione responses may be sensitive to competitor type (i.e., unknown competitors vs. peers). For most subjects, cortisol significantly increased during match play, decreased during the intrasquad soccer scrimmage, and differed significantly between treatments, suggesting each treatment promoted a different psychological state among competitors. Cortisol/DHEA molar ratio decreased during the intrasquad scrimmage, suggestive of a more relaxed mental state. These data shed new light on potential proximate mechanisms associated with coalitional competition among prepubescent boys, with relevance to adrenarche and life history theory.
Keywords: Androstenedione; Competition; DHEA; Life history theory; Middle childhood; Testosterone.