Fathers’ testosterone levels interact with personality in predicting parenting quality

A new study indicates that self-control plays an important role in the association between testosterone and fathers’ parenting behaviors. The findings have been published in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

“Both in popular media and everyday life we hear about individual differences among fathers regarding their involvement in family life and parenting qualities being the result of their (neuro)biological constitution, among which is their testosterone (T) level,” said study author Lotte D. van der Pol of Leiden University.

“However, to date studies on the link between T and parenting in human fathers have yielded mixed results, with some finding an association in the expected direction (more T associated with less paternal involvement/lower quality parenting), some finding an association in the opposite direction (more T associated with more paternal involvement/higher quality parenting), and some studies finding no association at all.”

“This stimulated us to examine the interplay between the personality trait of self-control and T in relation to parenting quality in fathers since humans, much more than other species, have the ability to modulate their biologically driven responses to social stimuli.”

The researchers collected saliva samples from 159 fathers with preschool-age children. During a home visit, the fathers also completed a computerized assessment of self-control, and their sensitivity and respect for child autonomy was observed and videotaped during an 8-minute free-play session.

Respect for autonomy refers to parents’ ability to refrain from unnecessary intrusions, while sensitivity refers to parents’ ability to show warmth and responsiveness to their child.

Van der Pol and her colleagues found that higher T levels were associated with less respect for child autonomy, but only among fathers with relatively low self-control. Higher T levels were also associated with more sensitive parenting, but only among fathers with relatively high self-control.

“There is no direct link between T and parenting in fathers. Rather, fathers’ basal T interacts with their personal traits in predicting their parenting quality. Depending on their level of self control, higher T may have a positive or negative effect on fathers’ parenting,” van der Pol told PsyPost.

But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“In this study we were not able to ascertain the causality of the relation between T and parenting. Is it fathers’ basal T level in interaction with self-control that shapes their parenting behavior or does parenting in interaction with self-control also modulates fathers’ T? We need experiments to further test the direction of the effects we found,” van der Pol said.

The study, “Fathers: The interplay between testosterone levels and self-control in relation to parenting quality“, was authored by Lotte D. van der Pol, Marleen G. Groeneveld, Sheila R. van Berkel, Joyce J. Endendijk, Elizabeth T. Hallers-Haalboom, and Judi Mesman.