The Chemistry of Confidence


Confidence is key. Confidence is being certain of a prediction or best course of action. Self-confidence is being confident in one’s self. Confidence affects almost every aspect of every person’s life. From playing video games, to making big life decisions, confidence is one of the largest roles. While confidence seems like it is just an emotion and could have nothing to do with chemistry, you might be surprised by how much chemistry actually affects confidence in people. The “winner effect” is a great way to describe most aspects of confidence, in which success in something increases one’s confidence, and makes them feel capable of taking on a greater challenge in the future. I chose the topic of confidence because it is something that many people struggle with, especially now. With social media being such a huge part of most people’s lives, self-confidence is something that is often challenged, especially in teens. Many girls I know, myself included, seem to feel that posting a good picture of themselves or something cool they did will help them feel better about themselves, and they strive for more likes and nice comments. The problem with this is there are so many people to compare yourself to and everyone's lives and circumstances are so different, that this will rarely actually boost your confidence in the long run, it will most likely decrease it over time if you are consumed with social media. The increase of social media has caused a huge increase in depression and anxiety among teens, and it all has to do with confidence I think. I wanted to look into how confidence works and figure out some ways to help increase my confidence, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. My life is affected by confidence in so many ways, but I can give a few examples of the biggest ones. I am a musician, so of course confidence has a huge affect on that. When I perform, for example, success or failure in my performances change how I will feel preparing for the next one and how challenging the music I choose next will be. When I feel like I did well in a performance and get compliments, I have high standards for myself and choose harder music and feel confident during my preparations, but when I feel failure and get few compliments and even some negative ones, I feel insecure, have low expectations for next time, choose easier music, feel unconfident in my preparation, and get very nervous before and during my next performance. Also, I am a teenage girl, so I am also prone to the crippling affects social media has on my confidence. I have found that it consumes my thoughts and makes me feel worse when I am in consistent use of social media, mainly instagram and facebook, and even pinterest sometimes. There is always someone “better” and “cooler” than you, and there’s really no way to make yourself feel better by getting consumed with looking at other people’s lives. It will make you feel like you are incapable of achieving a better lifestyle, and lower your confidence in doing so. The way I see it, the way people present themselves on social media is a “shiny” version of their lives. People post the good times they have with their friends, with their boyfriends/girlfriends, in nature, and of themselves when they are looking good. What people rarely reveal is the times their friends ditch them and talk bad about them to other people, when they get in a fight or break up with their boyfriend/girlfriend, when they’re screaming at the mountain because the hike is too long, the weather too hot, and the trail too steep, when they fall and ruin their cute outfit or get stung by a bee, or a picture of them after crying for two hours because of how lonely, stressed, or confused they are and how hopeless they feel. I have struggled with every one of these things, yet have never posted anything about them on social media. Overall, I really do think it is a problem, but do know that it is one that every person has to fix themselves, though it can be very difficult to do. Confidence is key to having a successful and happy life. Having more confidence will almost always lead to a better outcome, and I wanted to research how it works.

Composition of ...

    • Testosterone
      • Primary male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid
      • Insufficient levels of testosterone can cause frailness and bone loss in males
      • Steroid is from androstane class
      • Keto and hydroxyl at the 3 and 17 positions
      • Biosynthesized from cholesterol and converted in liver into inactive metabolites
      • Exerts action by binding to activation of the androgen receptor
      • Production is 20 times greater in men than women
      • Women are much more sensitive to it
      • Chemical formula: C19H28O2
    • Dopamine
      • Organic chemical
      • Catecholamine and phenethylamine family
      • Synthesized in the brain and kidneys
      • Neurotransmitter in the brain
      • Major role in reward-motivated behavior
      • Most types of reward increase dopamine levels in the brain as well as addictive drugs
      • Has multiple other function, not related to confidence though
      • Chemical formula: C8H11NO2
    • Cocaine
      • Strong stimulant usually used as a recreational drug
      • Addictive because of its reward pathway in the brain
      • Very dangerous, many risks
      • Acts by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine
      • Makes there be a greater concentration of those three neurotransmitters in the brain
      • Chemical formula: C13H21NO4
    • Alcohol
      • Organic compound
      • Hydroxyl functional group bound to saturated carbon atom
      • Many different types
      • Alcoholic beverages usually ethanol
      • Ethanol chemical formula: C2H6O

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Testosterone: Testosterone occurs naturally in the human body. It is a hormone that is more abundant in males. An increase in testosterone can be caused by success. It is the main sex hormone for males, and the increase of testosterone from success can cause one to be more confident. It is secreted primarily from the testacles of men and, to a lesser extent, ovaries in females. The adrenal gland also secretes small amounts of testosterone. The molecular formula for testosterone is C19H28O2.

Dopamine: Dopamine is an amine synthesized by removing a carboxyl group from a molecule of its precursor chemical L-DOPA, synthesized in the brain and kidneys. It is an organic chemical of the catecholamine and phenethylamine families that plays important roles in the brain and body. Dopamine is released due to success or from using many types of addictive drugs. An increase in dopamine can increase confidence. Dopamine is synthesized in the brain as a neurotransmitter. The molecular formula for dopamine is C8H11NO2.

Chemistry's Role

Both testosterone and dopamine are naturally occurring in the body, though testosterone can be boosted using natural resources, such as zinc. Testosterone production starts by the hypothalamus gland sending a signal to the pituitary gland to release follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. The luteinizing hormone stimulates testosterone production. If too much testosterone is produced, then the hypothalamus alerts the pituitary to make less luteinizing hormone, which tells the testes to decrease testosterone levels. Just like sexual activity, taking part in competitive activities can increase or decrease testosterone levels. When testosterone levels are too low, it causes a loss of confidence and a lack of motivation. Women also have testosterone, except extremely smaller amounts, and do not have the same reactions relating to testosterone. Neurons (nerve cells) release dopamine to send signals to other cells. When talking about the chemistry of dopamine, neurotransmitter receptors must be mentioned. Neurotransmitter receptors receive signals that trigger an electrical signal. When a neurotransmitter, such as dopamine, binds to a receptor, the intended message is sent. There are many types of neurotransmitters and receptors in the human brain. Dopamine is most closely associated with the reward system in the brain, and helps communicate messages of success or liking something. An interesting aspect of dopamine production is addictive drugs. Many addictive drugs can be used to create an artificial reward system in the brain by producing crazy amounts of dopamine, making the user feel amazing, even if in reality the drug is very harmful. When a tolerance is built to the drug, it is often because the user is used to having larger amounts of dopamine released, so natural success or things that would normally make them very happy and confident, do not anymore due to the dopamine release being significantly lower than when they are on drugs. So while addictive drugs can greatly increase dopamine for a small amount of time, it significantly lowers confidence in the long run.

Background Research

Confidence: being certain in a decision or hypothesis, directly linked to decision making, determines how great of challenges you can take on, affects your life choices and chances of success.

Chemicals involved: Testosterone, dopamine, addictive drugs (alcohol, cocaine, benzodiazepine)

Reactions: Events causing increase or decrease of testosterone, Drugs releasing dopamine.


About the Author

Kathryn Pannell is a junior at Billings Senior High School. She enjoys playing clarinet and piano, spending time outside, climbing, running, friends, and hanging out with her chorkie. She is planning on attending the University of Montana to learn how to be a music teacher. Kathryn made Montana All-State Band her Sophomore year, and this year had the honor of being the principal clarinet in Montana’s All-State Orchestra. She also will be playing in the All-Northwest Band in February 2017. Since music is a big part of Kathryn’s life, confidence plays a large role is her ability to perform.