van Anders lab

social neuroendocrinology | feminist science | sexuality | gender/sex | sexual diversity

Social Neuroendocrinology

We study hormones and intimacy in social context and, especially, social modulation of testosterone. Our work explores the social phenomenology of testosterone (what is its evolved social function?) as well as intimacies like sexuality, nurturance, and partnering/pair bonding. We are interested in the effects of socially modulated hormones, including on health and immunity. Social neuroendocrinology is a way to ask hormonal questions that have both evolution and social construction in their answers, and is an interdisciplinary approach to hormone-behavior associations.

Most of our work is situated within the Steroid/Peptide Theory of Social Bonds (S/P Theory; van Anders et al., 2011), where nurturant behaviors/contexts decrease testosterone and competitive behaviors/contexts increase it. The S/P Theory is focused on the motivation of behaviors, the meaning of contexts, and the form these take, such that many behaviors could be either competitive or nurturant; their evolved function and/or social goal - or testosterone response - influence their categorization. This contrasts with most hormonal theories, where behaviors are slotted into a category without regard to their social nuances. For example, the S/P Theory predicts that many parental behaviors can be competitive and increase testosterone rather than nurturant, whereas other hormonal theories slot all parental behaviors into one broad low testosterone/parenting category. Social neuroendocrinology can have applied implications. We have a grant from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (at NIH) to examine how sexual activity changes immune function directly and via hormonal changes. We also have a grant from the UofM Injury Prevention Center to study how challenging interactions with infants affect testosterone and negative responses.

Some of the unique features of our lab include our:
-multilevel approach to human intimacy including culture, hormones, physiology, and social behavior;
-focus on sexual and other diversity at all levels of research;
-incorporation of different types of intimacy;
-interdisciplinary collaborations with, e.g., social workers, medical practitioners, immunologists, theatre directors, nurse/midwives, and psychological scientists from social, clinical, and developmental areas;
-inclusion of women, men, and gender-diverse people;
-focus on feminist and inclusive science practice;
-and interest in understanding intimacy within a comparative and evolutionary framework.

Some relevant papers are:

Feminist Science

All our work is conducted using a feminist science lens, meaning that attending to inequities related to gender and intersecting identities is fundamental to our research projects. Feminist science happens at all levels, from lab meetings to writing papers, from theory to method, etc. Some of our work is explicitly about feminist science methodologies, while some of our work is built upon a feminist science framework.

Feminist science is a broad discipline that is mostly feminist science studies; our lab is one of the few doing feminist science practice. For more on feminist science, look around the internets and also see Gap Junction Science, a feminist science site.

For more on feminist science in the van Anders lab, see the following interviews with Dr. van Anders: Some relevant papers are:


Our research in sexuality involves in-depth explorations of various sexual phenomena, like cuddling, orgasm, fantasy, solitary sexuality, arousal, thoughts, visual stimuli, jealousy, and desire. For example, we are interested in sexual desire as multifaceted, which may be experienced differentially by different people or at different times. This helps us understand desire as well as hormone-desire links. We are also interested in understanding how culture, gender norms, and physiology mutually or exclusively relate to sexuality.

Our work on sexuality is also focused on understanding how the same social behaviors can be sexual in some contexts but not others, using the S/P Theory as a guiding theoretical frame. In addition, we are interested in how some aspects of sexuality, widely assumed to be hormonal, might actually be better understood with a more broad sociocultural context.

Some relevant papers are:


Our lab is interested in humans situated in evolutionary (sex) and sociocultural (gender) context. When we study hormone-behavior associations, we (and almost all other scientists) typically do not know whether these associations reflect lived experiences or evolved predispositions - or both. Gender/sex is a term that reminds us of this. Moreover, it reflects whole people; none of us categorize the gender/sexes of people we meet using only one factor; we use a gestalt. Our research on gender/sex focuses on cultural categorizations and understandings, as well as theoretical work that relates to gender/sex-diverse lived experiences.

Some relevant papers are:

Sexual Diversity

Our research focuses on the broad spectrum of human sexuality, and we work to incorporate individuals from sexual majority and sexual minority groups into our studies without (further) marginalizing those from minoritized groups. We are interested in the ways that relational and sexual diversity are related or not, including polyamory, asexuality, monoamory, and gender-related sexualities.

We have a project funded by the American Institute of Bisexuality, Inc., where we examind the implications of multigender partnering and relational diversity for sexual identity and hormones.

Some relevant papers are:

sari van anders, ph.d.
associate professor,
departments of psychology & women's studies
program in neuroscience
program in reproductive sciences
program in science, technology, and society
biosocial methods collaborative
ph: 1-734-647-6981
fax: 1-734-763-7480
530 church street
ann arbor, michigan, 48109, usa
university of michigan
copyright, Sari M. van Anders, 2008 - 2015.