Hormones in speed-dating: The role of testosterone and cortisol in attraction

Horm Behav. 2019 Nov:116:104555. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2019.07.003. Epub 2019 Nov 6.


There is evidence that testosterone and cortisol levels are related to the attraction of a romantic partner; testosterone levels relate to a wide range of sexual behaviors and cortisol is a crucial component in the response to stress. To investigate this, we conducted a speed-dating study among heterosexual singles. We measured salivary testosterone and cortisol changes in men and women (n = 79) when they participated in a romantic condition (meeting opposite-sex others, i.e., potential romantic partners), as well as a control condition (meeting same-sex others, i.e., potential friends). Over the course of the romantic speed-dating event, results showed that women's but not men's testosterone levels increased and cortisol levels decreased for both men and women. These findings indicate that men's testosterone and cortisol levels were elevated in anticipation of the event, whereas for women, this appears to only be the case for cortisol. Concerning the relationship between attraction and hormonal change, four important findings can be distinguished. First, men were more popular when they arrived at the romantic speed-dating event with elevated cortisol levels. Second, in both men and women, a larger change in cortisol levels during romantic speed-dating was related to more selectivity. Third, testosterone alone was unrelated to any romantic speed-dating outcome (selectivity or popularity). However, fourth, women who arrived at the romantic speed-dating event with higher testosterone levels were more selective when their anticipatory cortisol response was low. Overall, our findings suggest that changes in the hormone cortisol may be stronger associated with the attraction of a romantic partner than testosterone.

Keywords: Attraction; Cortisol; Human mating; Popularity; Selectivity; Social relation model; Speed-dating; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology
  • Courtship*
  • Female
  • Friends
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Hydrocortisone / physiology
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Sexual Partners
  • Social Desirability*
  • Testosterone / analysis
  • Testosterone / metabolism*
  • Testosterone / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Testosterone
  • Hydrocortisone