Insight: Aggression, Testosterone and the Biological Basis of Behavior

This is an insight written by Alawi Masud on a lecture given by Dr. Gregory F. Ball as part of the Bahá’í Chair series on human nature. 

Aggression, Testosterone, and the Biological Basis of Behavior

With the amazing leaps and bounds in neurochemistry and biology, we now know much more about the chemical and biological processes involved in our behavior and personality than ever before. However, these discoveries reignite the centuries old argument of nature vs nurture: are people born to be good or bad? Do these chemical processes make some people set out to be successful while others to be destined for failure-creating a sort of eugenic caste system? University of Maryland’s Dean of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Dr. Gregory F. Ball, spoke about this very topic in his lecture titled Aggression, Testosterone and the Biological Basis of Behavior.

To an astonishingly packed lecture hall, Dean Ball used a multitude of literature to disprove the notion of the eugenic caste system. He explained how the chemicals in our body do affect the frequency and intensity of behavior, but it is not as simple and direct as “testosterone makes people aggressive”. The determinate of chemicals like testosterone being secreted is based on social cues itself.


In one of his many examples of this mechanic, Dean Ball utilized the example of mating in certain types of birds. In these birds, the size of the gonad increases and decreases based on the time of year, reaching max size during mating season. The size increase of the gonads allows for more endocrines being introduced, in turn making them more likely to espouse more alpha male behavior. Simply put, the birds underwent and reversed puberty once every year based on their ability to detect mating season. When translated into humans, our decisions can introduce endocrines into our body-rather than our endocrines compelling us to make decisions.

He furthered this process into describing how the brain undergoes an almost specialization of labor. In other words, the more you do something, the more the brain gets used to it. This makes the chemical structure of the brain change to become more efficient.

Simplifying the Complex

The wonderful part about the lecture itself was how accessible Dean Ball made such complex topics without dumbing them down to nonrecognition. The crowd was incredibly diverse not only in racial and gender differences but in occupational background as well, students and professors, humanities and STEM, etc.; and yet every single one was interested and able to follow along. Through the use of video, sound, and well explained examples, Dean Ball was able to express his mastery of the subject simply and efficiently.

Yet, at times it did seem as though Dean Ball overcompensated the power of this theory to explain human affairs. He pointed at the use of testosterone to explain the disparity of incarceration between men and women, ignoring the complex social structures and institutions that drive incarceration. This enabled the spurious claim that men were more likely to go to jail due to their endocrines and not that men were more targeted to go to jail based on the role that society placed upon them to be proposed.

Changing Viewpoints

Overall however, I can attest that the ideas and research that Dean Ball exhibited at our lecture fundamentally changed my viewpoint on the world. The applications of such a theory could be used to adapt virtually any and all industries: from psychology, to marxist theory, to app development.

Watch our lecture here: 

About the Author:

Alawi Masud is an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Government & Politics with a focus in International Relations. He is currently working as a student intern for our very own Bahá’í Chair for World Peace.  Through cooperation, mutual aid, and academic understanding, he inspires to make the world united towards a better future.

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