Feeling Like a Man and Behind Blue Eyes: No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings…..

Benjamin Campbell

Campell is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He obtained a B.A. in Biology and an M.A. in Zoology from Indiana University in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Campbell then went on to earn an M.A. in Anthropology and a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University. Studying both humans and non-human primates, Campbell has an impressive list of publications involving the brain, hormones, and human life history. His work has been mainly in African populations, including adolescent males in Zimbabwe, and the Turkana and Ariaal pastorals.




Embodiment and Vitality

Embodiment is defined in several different ways in this article. In terms of anthropology, embodiment used to mean “the non-physiological experience of the body.”  Now, however, the focus is less on a mind-body dualism, as the mechanism describing how physiological information is transmitted to the right anterior insula was discovered by Bud Craig. Campbell uses embodiment as a term to “represent the neurophysiological experience of fundamental bodily processes centered around ‘well-being.’” From my understanding, embodiment in this context refers to how one is feeling and thinking related to how well his/her body is doing. Vitality can be defined as the energy resulting from a feeling of well-being.



Over the past few decades, studies have shown that an increase in testosterone in hypogonadal men (men with low testosterone) lead to feeling better, increased bodily functionality, and having better sex. Men in industrialized societies tend to have high baseline testosterone levels after adolescence that drop significantly after its peak in their twenties. On the other hand, men in less industrialized societies usually have lower baseline testosterone that stays relatively consistent over the course of their life. While men in Western cultures tend have lowering testosterone levels over the course of their lives, men in subsistence cultures tend to have testosterone levels that fluctuate on a weekly or even day to day basis.

The Experiment

Campbell chose to study men because of the differences in behavior that can be seen by the prescence of different sex steroids (hormones). He also chose to study a group of pastoral nomads in Kenya known as the Ariaal because they have high levels of physical activity, low energy intake, and high disease burdens when compared to men in western cultures. Campbell predicted that higher levels of testosterone would correlate with higher libido, higher energy levels, and a greater sense of well-being among Ariaal men.

Campbell used the World Health Organization’s Quality of Life questionnaire to determine the subjective feelings of the Ariaal men in terms of satisfaction with sex, energy levels, and positive emotions. Campbell then obtained saliva samples for over one hundred nomadic and settled men. After controlling for genetic factors that could interfere with the effects of testosterone levels (DRD2 dopamine receptors), Campbell analyzed the results and determined that his prediction was correct: there is a relationship between levels of testosterone in males and their self-reported well-being.


Interesting Cultural Beliefs about Male Vitality

One of the most interesting parts of this article is examining the beliefs about masculinity and embodiment cross-culturally. Campbell notes that from da Vinci to the Turkana in Kenya, there is an often occurring linkage culturally between males’ head, spine, and semen. The Sambia of New Guinea, the Greeks, and the Celts all had/have cultural practices involving the transfer of masculine energy via semen or the head of a slain enemy. This linkage reflects how men see their bodies, but also how their bodies work.

For example, some evidence seems to suggest that the function of the brain and the spine are dependent on androgen in males. Men who don’t have working androgen receptors have testosterone that does not function properly later in life, which causes spinal problems and malfunctions in the spinal bulbar muscles (which are responsible for erections).

Why is this really cool?

If a genetically male fetus is not exposed to or is insensitive to androgen, it will not develop male genitalia. Androgen is responsible for male genitalia.


The way certain cultures connect the spine, brain, and male genitalia has a scientific basis! This is awesome!




Campbell studied how men’s level of testosterone affected their subjective well-being and vitality. In both industrialized populations and pastoral populations, higher levels of testosterone led to higher feelings of well-being in men. Science is still cool.





Behind Blue Eyes: No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings…..

Recently I read an article by Carol Worthman of Emory University entitled “Emotions: You can feel the difference.” The article can be found as a chapter in the book “Biocultural approaches to the Emotions” which was published in 1999 and edited by Alexander Laban Hinton. As I read the article I was taken back to my first year as an undergraduate student sitting in a psychology class concerned with child development. In that class I was first exposed to the work of Jerome Kagan on temperament in infants and the work of Mary Ainsworth involving various types of attachment of children to their caregivers. The more recent work by Carol Worthman builds on these ideas and outlines a process in which an individual’s relationship to the environment is mediated by emotions and how the appraisal of this relationship has an effect on the individual’s mental and physical health. Ultimately, Worthman argues that emotions have a role in cognition and physical well-being.

Worthman begins with a description concerning what exactly emotions are and what they do. Emotions are involved in processing sensory information. Emotions influence the detection of stimuli and the amount of attention given to stimuli. Emotions are involved in learning, memory, and cognitive integration. Emotions also influence the cognitive drive of an individual, affecting motivation, organization, prioritization, and recruitment of cognitive structures. Emotions are also a signal to the self and to others. Emotions affect communication, relations, and self- representations.

Emotion and the brain

Worthman introduces the ideas of Gregory Bateson, formed in 1958, concerning ethos and eidos. Ethos can be described as the affective-emotional landscape characterizing members of a culture. Contrary to this, eidos concerns the cognitive-propositional landscape characterizing working cultural logic of members of a culture. These ideas reflect a Western view of feeling and thinking being dichotomous or Cartesian. In this model, the two realms are mutually exclusive; as emotion increases cognition decreases, and as emotion decreases cognition increases. Worthman suggests that in addition to operating in this manner, there may also be a synergy between thinking and feeling. She suggests that emotions are crucial to preconscious processing wherein they direct attention, and are also involved in memory construction and retrieval.

Emotion influences what is remembered, how it is remembered, modulates the retrieval of information, and ultimately forms a “bridge to the unconscious.” Indeed, most processing of sensory information, including emotions, occurs in the unconscious and is therefore embodied outside of awareness.

Conscious vs. subconscious thinking

Worthman suggests that what becomes conscious is selective and it is emotion that shapes the selection. Consciousness is finite; the brain determines what to pay attention to and what to ignore or place in the background. Emotion plays a key role in selecting attention and prioritizing cognition. Emotions are integral to information processing. And finally both conscious and pre or unconscious information is embodied.

Worthman proposes a “dual embodiment schema” in which culture or the social context has an influence on the body through the process of embodiment and in return the body has an influence on the culture or social context leading again to various forms of embodiment. As Worthman states, “as culture shapes persons, persons shape culture.” The process of this embodiment depends on individual motivation, perception, behavior, and physical attributes. It is the individual’s interpretation of events, not the facts themselves, which constitutes lived experience.

Individual differences in emotional valence and interpretation of emotion can be described as the individual’s temperament. Jerome Kagan was a pioneer in the idea of temperament and described how reactive-inhibited infants are more easily excited, difficult to soothe, and less readily habituated.

Jerome Kagan on temperament

This has also been shown to be true in primates, particularly rhesus monkeys. In research conducted by Suomi (1991) high-reactive rhesus monkey infants were found to be more influenced by rearing conditions than low-reactive infants. High-reactive infants raised by “average mothers” were socially avoidant and low in dominance. Contrarily, low-reactive infants assumed immediate status no matter what were their rearing conditions. It has also been found that rearing conditions exert enduring effects on hormonal stress patterns (Higley et al. 1992).

In conclusion, individual reactivity can be a product of genetic inheritance or of early experience. Long-term effects of early experience may be exhibited only in certain situations. Effects of early experience depend on individual temperament through the interaction of reactivity and the environment. Variation in affective responsiveness influences how information is perceived, evaluated, and acted upon. These ideas constitute a psycho behavioral and biological link. They also illustrate the importance of the individual’s personal makeup and the context or social environment. A person’s inherited genetic biology influences temperament, which in turn influences emotion and how the individual interacts with the environment, which in turn influences mental and physical health, with all aspects combining in a circular feedback loop. I have included a chart created by Worthman below, which was created a few years after the article under discussion. In my opinion, the chart goes a long way towards illustrating these ideas in a visual format.


Greg Batchelder

18 thoughts on “Feeling Like a Man and Behind Blue Eyes: No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings…..”

  1. In the conclusion statement, there was a concept I focused on, which was, a person’s inherited genetic biology influences temperament, which in turns, influences emotions and how the person interacts in the environment, which again, in turns, influences mental and physical state. I believe this to be true because on a daily basis, I catch myself acting just like my mother, or father.

  2. The whole study regarding testosterone is pretty interesting in the context of the total explosion in testosterone therapy in the US right now. I work in a pharmacy and we see these prescriptions daily, and Time magazine just ran a feature article on this over the summer, titled “Manopause?!” Beyond a few paragraphs, the article is restricted to subscriber, but here is the link for reference:

    And here is an article regarding the Time article:

    Neither of these sources are exactly scientific, but it’s more to demonstrate the relevance in pop science and the population right now. It’s interesting to wonder how much men feel they need something like a testosterone boost on a personal level, and how much is just induced by society. Are they actually feeling worn out physically and sexually, or is there just outside pressure to be more masculine and more sexual at an unreasonable age? Do aging women have the same pressures and same insecurities, or are they treated differently? If so, what are the differences? Every time I dole out testosterone therapy, I secretly find myself being a little dubious as to how needed it is — even though I know I shouldn’t judge and there are many reasonable uses for testosterone therapy, but a lot of it seems to be sort of a midlife crisis boost, a quick “fix” for body image issues, that can possibly have negative ramifications.

    Anyway. The culture part is neat-o! Yaaaay semen and spines!

    1. I’m also not entirely sure about the connection between testosterone and the cognitive-emotive effects, whether it’s direct or culturally mediated. I do think it’s interesting that this seems to be happening now, when our culture connects emotions to hormone and chemical treatments (periods, menopause and estrogen therapy, depression and serotonin).

      It’s also funny because much of what we’ve read has looked at some evopsych or contextual explanation of why something happens, but the fact that testosterone is connected with these positive emotions and so supplementation must be good seems taken for granted. The idea that declining testosterone plays a developmental role does not seem to be considered. Like gcmiller says, the physical consequences are detrimental, but especially considering the article, I have to wonder whether our evaluation of dropping T levels plays into our perception of the experience as a whole, especially since our culture values youth so much.

  3. Benjamin Campbell’s book chapter really got me thinking how important embodiment is. I that testosterone levels in males provided the perfect platform to illustrate embodiment. That is, how men experience both sex drive and what Campbell defines as “vitality” is predicated upon hormone levels. Personally, I think that more time could have been spent articulating what exactly testosterone’s effects are on the body. Still, the biggest missed opportunity in this chapter is that Campbell did not take the time to explain in depth how or why different life strategies affect testosterone level. These questions seem to be touched on but ever so lightly. How might these differences in testosterone levels over the course of one’s life be selected for in the life history sense? Campbell notes that testosterone is a relatively new area of study in neuroanthropology so maybe we do not yet have enough data to link back to over-arching theories such as life history.
    In a related article, Carol Worthman argues a sort of reverse wherein emotions play a large part in our cognition and physical well-being. Sometimes an article comes along and you just exclaim “Duh!” but one must not forget that it is hard to hit the nail on the head when figuring out what exactly is going on in the mind and body despite how obvious it seems later. Of course, I’d imagine all good scientists would want their work to, at some point, elicit such a response. I am particularly interested in what Worthman says about the conscious and subconscious. I was watching Chicago Fire last night, a television show about firefighters, in which a crash between two fire trucks occurred while they were both racing to a fire. The drama that ensued was based on the fact that the driver of the “good-guys” could not specifically remember what color the light was at the intersection of the crash. In this scenario, I can see what Worthman is talking about. It is not that the drier didn’t look. The look could have been subconscious. Emotions prior to and after the accident also could have impaired his ability to remember what color the light was. Worthman states that consciousness is selective. This makes sense for a wide range of scenarios, such as this one, as well as many mental illnesses, DID for example.
    In recent weeks, I’ve heard and talked a lot about how a smile can make you happy. This makes me extremely curious because my resting facial expression is not one of perceived pleasure! I have been told on countless occasions to “just smile!” Maybe I should take that advice. I have commented on articles above that talk about embodiment and how emotions can affect cognition and physiology. Now I want to discuss an article I recently read by Shafir et al. (2013) titled “Emotion regulation through execution, observation, and imagery of emotional movements.” The authors rightly point out that while static positions can evoke emotion (smiling, for instance), our bodies and the environment form a dynamic relationship and it is for this reason that “whole-body dynamic movements” could have a greater magnitude of affect on the emotional state of the subject based on this active interchange with the environment. Those subjects who passed the initial Movement Imagery Questionnaire-Revised Scale (MIQ-RS) and the Expression Manipulation Procedure, 22 out of 29 in total, were taught how to express emotions (happy, sad, fearful, neutral) through dynamic movement. For this study, facial expressions were controlled for using masks. This study involved a within subject design, meaning that study subjects were tasked with executing the movements, observing the movements using video clips, and kinesthetic imagery. Their results indicate that all four emotions were recognized almost 90% of the time. Happy and sad emotional movements were perceived as more intense than fear and neutral movements. In fact, all emotional movements were perceived as more intense than neutral movements. Using the PANAS positive affect ratings, all emotion movements produced an increase of assigned emotion. Even neutral movements increased neutral feelings. These are all significant findings in regards the execution of movement. Observing these movements had much the same effect with a smaller magnitude of change for PANASp except that observing happy movements did not significantly change affective state. Overall, feelings can be affected through movement. If I want to be happy, I can do a “happy dance.” I could also avoid other movements that have negative connotations like the fear movement in this study. While watching happy movements might not make me happy, watching scary or sad movements might have a negative impact on my emotional state. This explains why I shy away from watching scary or overtly sad movies right before I go to bed. Kinesthetic imagery is a trickier subject. Familiarity with the movement plays a huge part in being able to imagine yourself doing it effectively and to be able to “reuse” the emotions associated. I think this is the weakest part of their study but one in which lights the way for future research. It is quite obvious that this study has practical applications for us all.

    1. Going off of Carol Worthman’s article, the ways in which people perceive and react to the world around them is distinctly based in emotion. Emotion is such a strong determinant of what information we perceive and remember. As the film industry has been astute to point out, many individuals subjected to the same event will experience that event differently (Vantage Point to name one). Conscious and unconscious awareness are both embodied, and Worthman suggests the bridge between these two concepts is emotion. The existence of levels of awareness makes sense, no pun intended. After all, you only have so much attention at your disposal. These issues remind me of Porges’s Polyvgal theory, specifically his SES complex. There must be an evolutionary basis for the separation of conscious and unconscious. I also wonder how this compartmentalization is connected to higher brain function in humans like the ability to think abstractly. Lastly, how would Worthman incorporate people with synesthesia into her ‘dual embodiment schema?’

  4. In reply to amray1 on testosterone therapy

    You speculate whether testosterone therapy is really warranted and why men might feel like they need to supplement. I feel like in certain cases, testosterone therapy is absolutely warranted. Testosterone doesn’t just increase feelings of well-being; it can help increase muscle mass and bone strength. This is important, especially as people are able to live longer. The longer people live, the more adverse health effects they will experience. Personally, I wish my grandad would take testosterone supplements, because in his current physical state he can barely get out of a chair and struggles to walk for any length of time. It is understandable that people would prefer to hang onto whatever shred of their former physical strength that they can. To remember what it was like to have the ability to run for miles, and then barely have the strength to walk, would just be depressing to me.

    Also, it is important to note that women also take testosterone therapy to increase their libido.

    Why is it unreasonable to be masculine(or feminine) and sexual at an old age? Just because we are old does not mean we have to act like grandparents.


  5. As stated above, early experience depends on individual temperament through reactivity and the environment.
    If they are biologically linked would there be a way to possibly test them? Would they be found in the chromosomes and would they prove to be of blended inheritance or a sex linked autosome / recessive, in the genetic makeup. As you have stated a person’s inherited genetic biology influences temperament. Genetic make up proves to be a key in why we act the way we do. Could this be a reason why regular individuals exhibit different reactivity to different varieties of stressors?

  6. I found it interesting that then head, spine, semen lore is so cross cultural. Many times when you look at cultural explainations of the physical world, they can be a bit misguided. However in this case many cultures hit the nail on the head as it were with the physical connections and dependency of those body regions on one another. The fact that the male spine is dependent upon the masculinizing hormone inorder to make erections possible and laymen noticed that connection long before science recognized the connection between the two body regions baffles me.

    1. As we have continued our discussions throughout the semester, I find it no less intriguing that the originally lore based thoughts about the human body have so often proven to be true. Even when they are incorrect in one way the can be correct in another. Take the heart for example, it does not have anything to do with love on scientifically, as many cultures once thought, or does it. the movement of endorphin’s and blood via the vasodilation, and parasympathetic reactions stimulated by the vagus nerve are not kickstarted by the heart but the are enacted by it.

  7. I truly enjoyed the chapter “Embodiment and Male vitality in Subsistence societies” and thought it was very accessible. The explanation of the embodied cognition and experience of testosterone made the phenomenon of Muelos among many subsistence communities make much more sense. The chapter also brought up the distinct difference in testosterone patterns across the life span of men in industrialized compared to subsistence communities. I know that sperm counts have significantly decreased within the past half century or more at least and wonder if that data came from industrialized countries alone. Are there significant differences between subsistence and industrialized communities?

  8. The first part of this post intrigued me the most. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is a very real (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1429/) and can have many other manifestations that may not be as clear cut. Furthermore, the cross-cultural link of masculine identity to semen production is profound. Together, these two topics raise many questions regarding gender, gene vs environment interactions, and what it means to be “male”. What is an easy, convenient way to test testosterone levels in men? Do more men today in Western cultures exhibit even less testosterone post-twenties? What sort of factors play a role in decreasing testosterone levels? I’ve heard of “male menopause” before, but figured it was just another way of coping with a mid life crisis. It’s interesting that our culture is so focused on female hormonal imbalances, as well. Interesting read, for sure.

  9. Great review! I couldn’t help but wonder since the male testosterone decline has been linked with subjective “well-being” do you think that the change in thinkjng would help reverse the effects? Ultimately raising their levels of testosterone?

  10. I found the distinction between the conscious and the subconscious the most interesting. It’s interesting to think that information may be stored in my brain that I am not entirely aware about. I also am interested in the fact that my subconscious decides exactly what I should be focusing on based on my emotions or needs. I had never put much thought into what my subconscious does, rather than the usual life-sustaining necessities, so it is intriguing to give some thought to.

  11. My comment has less to do with the article but with a somewhat heated debate we had in class related to topics in the article. We discussed how men in the United States appear to have increasingly low testosterone levels as they age. Luckily in the United States we have created a solution and a corner market has even popped up to cater to baby boomers. Testosterone therapy is growing and for some it is certainly medically necessary, for others maybe it is warranted, and for the rest maybe not. What we discussed in class was whether we were just fighting against the natural effects of aging. Is it unreasonable to do so? Should we just surrender to our elderly fate or should we try and find all the medical interventions out there that could delay certain age related effects. For both men and women this is increasingly becoming something to ponder as they reach a certain age. The entire discussion reminded me of something related to our age group (the 18-24 lot) that also has to do with culture, brain, and aging. Apparently there are some people who believe we need something like an extended adolescence or that we already have one. It’s a result of many things, long life spans, longer parental support, poorer economic outlook, a slower development in terms of maturing neurologically, and simply not being ready to be a self-sufficient adult. Since the pre frontal cortex is still developing during these years it makes since, sort of. I think it would be an interesting topic to discuss. The idea of an extended adolescence is certainly being perpetuated in pop culture even if isn’t called that name in any way. It’s also becoming more common for young people to live with their parents and work or at least be partially supported by their parents in some way while they transition to adulthood.

    Here are two not super scientific but interesting articles related to this topic: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24173194 http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/25-is-the-new-21/381421/

  12. Referring to the blog, a person’s inherited genetic biology influences temperament, influences emotion and how the individual interacts with the environment. I was reading this article, Goodness of fit: How temperament Determines need, by Elaine Gibson, and I thought it was a good example of describing certain temperaments and how changing or altering the way we handle certain temperaments could lead to a much healthier outlook for certain individuals. We can’t change a person’s temperament but we can teach that individual how to interact or cope in their surroundings. According to Gibson, these traits are characteristics of reactivity: the child interacting in a certain way with the environment because the child has a certain predisposition to the behavior, which is the definition of temperament. The article suggests that there are roughly three types of temperaments that describe a child, which are: an easy child, a slow to warm up child, and a difficult child. An easy child can be describe as positive, approach oriented, predictable, average, intensity, and extremely adaptable, and can fix in any environment. Gibson also makes a very important point here. Adding, that to be careful with these types of children because a child needs may be overlooked because they are so good. The next type is a slow to warm up child. Slow to warm up children are passive, shy, afraid of new people and situations, mild manner, negative and slow to adapt. Gibson encourages caregivers to give these children time to adapt, and if not given time, they could turn out to be a problem child. For every forced step, the child will take two steps back. But if no demands are ever placed on the child, the child will not make any progress. Too much pressure will increase negativism. The last type is characterized as difficult, and is described as unpredictable, withdrawing, non-adaptive to change, extremely negative and very intense. Gibson suggests a gradual and repeated demand presented with patience, consistency and objectivity are required. Adults, parents, and teachers can intervene between the child’s personality and the demands of the environment. This will help the child cope with their surroundings better. When reading this article, it made me think about my own temperament. I would say, I’m somewhere between easy and slow to warm up. And the older I get, the more and more I see a mix of my parent’s temperaments in me. It’s funny how you don’t recognize these types of things until you’re older.

  13. We talked a lot about the “Medicalization of Aging” in regards to this article. Our culture does seem to try to “cure” many ailments that we used to just accept as a part of the aging process, such as grouchy moods and a low sex drive. I also thought the evolutionary advantages of low testosterone later in life was another interesting thing we talked about. Sperm degrades as life goes on, so it’s better not to be making babies when you’re super old. However, chimpanzees and other close relatives of humans continue to reproduce until their death. I wonder how the evolution of the human brain reflects this change.

  14. I think the class discussion about this was particularly thoughtful. I don’t usually give much thought to testosterone therapies, so it was not something that I really had an opinion on. I think that testosterone therapies are not necessarily bad things. I know that there are similar things that can be done for women to help with menopause, and, in a way, some of these therapies feel as if they are similar to this, but just for men, which I don’t find a problem with. I think that using it to try and fight off some of the effects of aging is a very natural thing to do as a human being. I think humans try as long as they can to keep themselves from aging or losing too much of themselves to the process of aging, and I do not think of this any differently than any of those kinds of things.

  15. After our discussion in class, I realized that my previous opinion regarding low T therapy needed revising. I was thinking of my elderly grandfather who can barely walk when I stated that T therapy might be helpful. I was not aware of the low T clinics that plague our nation, though. Unless the person has some severe medical disorder, a male who is 20, 30, 40, or 50 does not need testosterone therapy. There is a natural flow of hormones in both men and women that leads to a different phase of life .

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