Male risk taking, female odors, and the role of estrogen receptors

Martin Kavaliers, Amy Clipperton-Allen, Cheryl L. Cragg, Jan Åke Gustafsson, Kenneth S. Korach, Louis Muglia, Elena Choleris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Male risk-taking and decision making are affected by sex-related cues, with men making riskier choices and decisions after exposure to either women or stimuli associated with women. In non-human species females and, or their cues can also increase male risk taking. Under the ecologically relevant condition of predation threat, brief exposure of male mice to the odors of a sexually receptive novel female reduces the avoidance of, and aversive responses to, a predator. We briefly review evidence showing that estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα and ERβ, are associated with the mediation of these risk taking responses. We show that ERs influence the production of the female odors that affect male risk taking, with the odors of wild type (ERαWT, ERβWT), oxytocin (OT) wildtype (OTWT), gene-deleted 'knock-out' ERβ (ERβKO), but not ERαKO or oxytocin (OT) OTKO or ovariectomized (OVX) female mice reducing the avoidance responses of male mice to cat odor. We further show that administration of specific ERα and ERβ agonists to OVX females results in their odors increasing male risk taking and boldness towards a predator. We also review evidence that ERs are involved in the mediation of the responses of males to female cues, with ERα being associated with the sexual and both ERβ and ERα with the sexual and social mechanisms underlying the effects of female cues on male risk taking. The implications and relations of these findings with rodents to ERs and the regulation of human risk taking are briefly considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)751-761
Number of pages11
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 5 2012


  • Anxiety
  • Boldness
  • Decision making
  • Fear
  • Oxytocin
  • Predator odor
  • Sexual behavior
  • Social behavior
  • Social recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Philosophy


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