Prior research has shown that in the context of competition, larger rewards are associated with amplified physiological arousal. Yet, few studies examined the effect of reward on testosterone (T) level, although this hormone has been shown to respond to competitive situations and status shifts. The present study investigated salivary T level, physiological arousal (heart rate and heart rate variability), changes during competition in young males (N = 40, mean age = 21.7 ± 2.3 years). Participants competed in pairs in a video game, whereby they could win or lose - according to skill and effort. According to random grouping, pairs were either rewarded equally or the winner gained more monetary reward than the loser (unequal reward). Apart from the physiological and endocrine assessments, questionnaires provided information about competitive attitudes (hypercompetitiveness, and "personal development competitive attitude") and mood changes through the competition. Results yielded that both conditions increased subjective and cardiac arousal, but reward conditions had not influenced T response; T increased only in hypercompetitive losers. Competitive performance was correlated to T level and T level change in both winners and losers, supporting the observation that competitive performance and T level can be in a reciprocal relationship. These findings are consistent with the status instability hypothesis.
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