Testosterone gives people an inflated ego that makes us overconfident in our opinions and dismissive of others, according to a study conducted by the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London). The conclusions might shed light on how group decisions are affected by influential individuals.
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It also suggests that testosterone might make people more stubborn when making future decisions and unwilling to compromise with others in the group.
Thus this spectrum of behaviors can be interpreted differently by different people. But one thing seems to be sure — men with higher testosterone appear to be, on average, more successful in life.
Group versus Individual or Collective Versus Minority of One
Problem-solving in groups can enable groups to arrive at more beneficial decisions than individual decisions. Every individual in the group has unique expertise and experiences that can synergize the group's thought process.
However, there is a caveat: if the group is comprised of only like-minded individuals, there is the danger of uncritical discussions that often lead to groupthink...with less-than-desirable results.
Evolution seems to favor a hierarchical structure; lone-hunting animals are less likely to survive than pack animals with an alpha leader.
Testosterone is linked with the alpha leader, as any person put into a position of power will tend to have their increase in this androgen hormone naturally.
Oxytocin versus Testosterone: Science Takes Hold
Attempts to understand the biological mechanisms behind group decision-making have centered on promoting cooperation. Studies have shown that people receiving a dose of oxytocin hormone tend to be more cooperative.
In a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers have demonstrated that the hormone testosterone has the opposite effect — making people more ego-driven and uncooperative.
The tensions between cooperation and individuals operating in behalf of their own have created a complex interaction that soft scientists studied: sociologists and psychologists, from an external observation point, but often never looking at the chemical interaction.
Applying the hard sciences of medicine, physiology, chemistry, and biology, we are finally beginning to unravel the importance of testosterone and why it gives people in business and life a distinct advantage in determining outcomes.
However, there can also be distinct disadvantages as we explore both sides of low versus high testosterone.
Testosterone and Women's Clinical Study
Dr. Nick Wright and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL conducted a series of tests using 17 pairs of female volunteers who had never met.
The trial occurred over two days, a week apart. On one of the days, both volunteers were given a testosterone supplement; on the other day, they were given a placebo.
Both women sat in the same room and viewed their screens during the experiment. Both subjects saw the same thing.
First, in each trial, they were shown two images, one of which was a high-contrast target — and they needed to decide individually which model included the mark.
If they both concurred with their individual choices, they received feedback and moved on to the next trial.
But if they disagreed, they were asked to discuss their differences with their partner and reach a joint conclusion. One of the pairs then enters this mutual decision.
The researchers discovered that, as anticipated, cooperation allowed the group to perform way better than the subjects alone when they had only received the placebo.
But, when given a testosterone supplement, the benefit of cooperation was dramatically lowered.
Higher testosterone levels were linked with individuals behaving as self-centered and favoring their conclusions over their teammates.
Interesting Conclusion About Testosterone
"When we are making decisions in groups, we tread a fine line between cooperation and self-interest: too much cooperation and we may never get our way, but if we are too self-orientated, we are likely to ignore people who have real insight," explains Dr. Nick Wright.
"Our behavior seems to be moderated by our hormones — we already know that oxytocin can make us more cooperative, but if this were the only hormone acting on our decision-making in groups, this would make our decisions very skewed.
"We have shown that, in fact, testosterone also affects our decisions, by making us more egotistical.
"Most of the time, this allows us to seek the best solution to a problem, but sometimes, too much testosterone can help blind us to other people's views.
This can be very significant when we are talking about a dominant individual trying to assert his or her opinion in, say, a jury."
Testosterone is involved in a broad range of social behaviors. For example, in chimpanzees, testosterone levels explode before a confrontation or a fight.
Studies have determined that elevated testosterone levels are linked with greater antisocial behavior and aggression in female prisoners. Researchers believe these findings reflect testosterone's role in increasing the motivation to control others and increasing egocentricity.
(It might be noted that testosterone elevates one desire to climb higher in the pecking order for which they exist or to climb to higher positions of power in a particular setting).
Commenting on the findings, Dr. John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Trust, said: "Cooperating with others has obvious advantages for sharing skills and experience, but we know it doesn't always work, particularly if one alpha male or alpha female dominates the decision-making.
This result helps us understand at a hormonal level the factors that can disrupt our attempts to work together."
The Wellcome Trust funded this Testosterone Clinical Study.
*Testosterone is naturally secreted in men and women, and testosterone levels are correlated with essential behaviors (e.g., antisocial behavior) in both men and women.
For the dose size given experimentally, in women, this markedly increases their testosterone from its low baseline level. In men, however, the situation is more complicated: men already have high baseline levels of testosterone, so giving such doses will decrease their testosterone production. This feedback effect will offset the increase caused by the treatment itself.
The researchers, therefore, used female subjects because giving standard experimental doses causes a straightforward and well-characterized increase in their testosterone levels.
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Testosterone Story Source:
The above story is reprinted partially from materials provided by Wellcome Trust.
Wright, ND et al. Testosterone disrupts human collaboration by increasing egocentric choices. Proc Roy Soc B, 2012
Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of our Physicians and Staff.
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