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Primal Urge to Protect Home Turf Might Be a Factor When Athletes Play Home Games

June 21, 2006 -- The "home field advantage" might be partly fueled by testosterone and a basic human impulse to guard your territory.

That's what Canadian researchers report in a new study. If their theory is right, it could bode well for Germany in soccer's World Cup.

Germany is hosting the World Cup. While the competition is far from over, Germany's soccer team has been on a roll; it's undefeated in early rounds.

The new study focused on a different sport: ice hockey.

The researchers included Justin Carré, a psychology graduate student at Brock University in St. Catharine's, Ontario. They reported their findings in Pittsburgh, at the International Neuroendocrine Foundation's 6th International Congress of Neuroendocrinology.

Sporting Study

Carré and colleagues followed an elite Canadian ice hockey team for a season. The researchers measured the players' saliva levels of testosterone (a sex hormone) and cortisol (a stress hormone) before and after each game. The findings:

  • Testosterone levels were higher before and after winning games.
  • Pregame testosterone levels were even higher before home games.
  • Pregame cortisol levels were higher before home games than before away games.

"Testosterone changes were directly related to the outcome of the game," the researchers write.

The testosterone surge before home games "suggests a human territorial phenomenon," Carré and colleagues note. That is, players may have tapped into a primal instinct to defend their own territory during home games.

What about the cortisol spike before home games? That hormonal shift "may be the result of increased social pressure associated with competing in front of friends and family."

That is, the stakes were higher because the players' friends and family were in the stands.

Of course, the home field advantage is still just an advantage, not a guarantee of victory. After all, the Miami Heat basketball team won this year's NBA championship in Dallas, far from home.

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