Testosterone Increases Tenacity and Persistence In Spite of Long Odds

Posted by Dr. Michael White, Updated on June 24th, 2022
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testosterone long odds

Sex Hormones have a tremendous effect on psychological function. Testosterone not only impacts male physiology, but it has a significant impact on decision-making. There is a big trend in research to explore the behavioral effects of Testosterone via Hormone Replacement. A study recently released in the clinical journal Psychoneuroendocrinology uses Testosterone to explore how the hormone impacts men's ability to stand up in the face of defeat.

Testosterone and Social Rank

In animals, Testosterone Levels are often associated with pecking order. Dominant males tend to have higher Testosterone Levels than subordinates in the group. Earning one's place at the top of the order also encourages amplified Testosterone, while losing in competition suppresses Testosterone.

Testosterone appears to impact a male's ability to persevere in a competitive situation in humans. Under normal circumstances, perseverance is linked to how much control a man perceives themselves to have in a scenario. Men who feel like they are in a control position are more likely to keep pressing on than those who feel like the outcome is out of their hands. Prior research shows that encouragement increases an individual's ability to keep trying even in the case of roadblocks and lack of success.

Hormones Influence Competitive Decision-Making

Our decisions in these situations are largely cognitive—The individual assesses the circumstances to determine their odds of success. However, this decision-making process is not entirely psychological and can be modified by underlying hormonal activity. Lead researcher Hana H. Kutlikova hypothesized that Testosterone could change men's perception of these odds. This is the first research to explore how Testosterone impacts an individual's sense of control in a competitive situation.

Study Evaluates Testosterone's Effect on Competitiveness

Kutlikova's study involved 88 men, divided into experimental and control groups. Both groups were treated with topical gel—the experimental group received Testosterone, while the control group received a placebo. Researchers waited two hours for the Testosterone to enter circulation, then continued the experiment.

Participants were then set to perform a task that was artificially modified to trigger a perception of either high or low control. Groups were then subdivided based on how they were manipulated. This led to four groups total: Testosterone/High Control, Testosterone/Low Control, Placebo/High Control, Placebo/Low Control.

After being primed into a particular feeling of control, the participants were then set to the task of competing against an opponent. The game was simple—A race to see who could press a button to turn on a light the fastest. Men were under the impression that they were competing with another person but were actually going against a computer rival. The computers were programmed to increasingly out-compete the participant as the game went on. Men started the game with four Euros and placed bets on the winner each round.

Testosterone Increased Perseverance to Match High Sense of Control

After the games were completed, the researchers looked at how the participants responded to the competitive situation. Control participants in a perceived state of high control stayed in the game nearly double the length of time as those manipulated into a low-control state. However, introducing Testosterone to the mix had an interesting effect on the outcome.

Testosterone did not affect the persistence of those put in a state of high control. On the other hand, Testosterone significantly increased the determination of men that had been placed in a low-control space. In this case, Testosterone boosted tenacity to match men in the high-control groups.

Why Does Testosterone Impact Persistence in a Competitive Environment?

After the competition, researchers asked a number of questions to determine what thought processes may have impacted their actions during the game. One may hypothesize that Testosterone made it harder to perceive the opponent's dominance. In reality, the Testosterone group was more aware they were getting beat than the placebo group. In this case, it appears that Testosterone heightened the awareness of the opponent's performance—and in doing so, increased persistence.

Kutlikova and her research team hypothesize that Testosterone encourages men to stay in the game longer as a means to boost social status. This drive to maintain or increase social rank ended up costing them money in the end because the urge to compete overwhelmed their awareness that the opponent increasingly had the upper hand. The researchers believe that these findings could be beneficial in the future. For example, they suggest that Testosterone may be able to help men engage in intensive physical rehabilitation more effectively.

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