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Testing People Who Get Spittin' Mad

Researchers find that disappointed voters on Election Night 2008 experienced a dip in testosterone levels. How do they know? They measured the voters' spit, of course.

OK, boys, cast your mind back to Election Night 2008, and be honest: When you found out Barack Obama had been elected president, did you feel like you'd lost a little something? Perhaps you didn't quite feel as manly as before? Gee, that's too bad. You must have voted for a loser.

(Cue bar fight ...)

But there's something to this odd thesis. Researchers at the universities of Duke and Michigan have found that young men who cast their ballots in the 2008 presidential election for unsuccessful Republican candidate John McCain or Libertarian Robert Barr suffered a large dip in testosterone after the results were announced, while those who voted for the victorious Obama held steady.


What's more, young male supporters of McCain and Barr reported feeling more "unhappy, submissive, unpleasant and controlled" — whether married or not, we assume — after the election than those who voted for Obama. That's because testosterone (which women have in small amounts, excluding them from this study and 99.7 percent of arguments about sports) is a steroid hormone linked to aggression and threat response. It's also measured best in young men, who boast testosterone in abundance.

Duke neuroscientist Kevin LaBar hailed the "pretty powerful result" in a press release announcing the study. And in yet another fine moment for a Gross But Underrated Friend To Research, spit was taken from nearly 200 voters at various times during election night; the researchers analyzed the testosterone content in the spit samples to measure swings in response to victory or defeat. "Voters are physiologically affected by having their candidate win or lose an election," LaBar said.

The next step for the researchers is a natural: They will repeat the study on Duke and University of North Carolina basketball fans during one of the clashes in the schools' legendary rivalry this winter. Clearly relishing the prospect, LaBar said: "They'll spit before the game and spit after the game, and we'll just see."

Fine, doc, but remember to stand back.

The Cocktail Napkin appears at the back page of each issue of Miller-McCune magazine, highlighting current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.

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