Higher levels of testosterone and DHEA predict weaker religious ties among older men

Older men with higher levels of the sex hormones testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in their bodies tend to become less religious, according to a new study.

The findings, published recently in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, suggest that physiology can influence religiosity.

“Most of my research is on how social factors get ‘under the skin’ to influence human physiology — and the other way around,” said study author Aniruddha “Bobby” Das of McGill University.

“Religion seems to influence all kinds of physiological processes. There’s a lot of work these days on spirituality, church attendance — multiple dimensions of religiosity — as buffers against cardiovascular and metabolic problems. There’s a separate strand of research on how hormones and social factors cause each other. (Hormones are not just static ‘internal’ factors — they respond to our social lives.)”

“No nationally representative study had examined whether this applies to religious connections. I had the data, so I did.”

The study examined data from 1,071 older U.S. men who participated in the 2005–2006 and 2010–2011 waves of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP). The participants were all over the age of 57.

Das found that men with higher levels of testosterone and DHEA at wave 1 reported weaker religious ties at the follow-up.

“Hormones seem to lead people to avoid contact with religion,” he remarked.

Participants with higher testosterone and DHEA attended religious services less often and were less likely to report having spoken with a religious figure about important matters.

Das controlled for the statistical effects of age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, hormone supplements, waist size, diagnosed conditions, and health. But he cautioned the study includes “many, many caveats.”

“Among them: these were observational data analyses. No causal inferences can be drawn. The sample was of older adults: nationally representative, but still. What happens at younger ages is unknown,” he explained.

“Apparently, some blogs are construing the findings as ‘testosterone makes people atheists.’ That’s nonsense,” Das added. “Sex hormones may be one factor, among many, that influence (not determine) religious activities.”

The study was titled: “Are Men’s Religious Ties Hormonally Regulated?