Testosterone makes us overvalue our own opinions at the expense of cooperation, research from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) has found. The findings may have implications for how group decisions are affected by dominant individuals.
It also suggests that testosterone might make people more determined and set in their ways when they make decisions about the future. Could it also give such determined people the image in others as pigheaded, monomaniacal, knows-what-they-want or even as a born leader.
Thus this spectrum of behaviors can be interpreted in different ways 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 provide benefits over individual decisions as we can share our information and expertise.
However, there is a tension between cooperation and self-orientated behavior: although groups might benefit from a collective intelligence, collaborating too tightly can lead to an uncritical group-think, ending in decisions that are bad for all.
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 tended to focus on the factors that promote cooperation, and research has shown that people given a boost of the hormone oxytocin tend to be more cooperative.
Now, in a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers have shown that the hormone testosterone has the opposite effect — it makes people act less cooperatively and more egocentrically.
The tensions between cooperation and individuals operating in behalf of their own have created a complex interaction that was studied by soft scientists: 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 will explore both sides of low versus high testosterone.
Testosterone and Women Clinical Study
Dr. Nick Wright and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL carried out a series of tests using 17 pairs of female volunteers* who had previously never met.
The trial took place over two days, spaced a week apart. On one of the days, both volunteers in each pair were given a testosterone supplement; on the other day, they were given a placebo.
During the experiment, both women sat in the same room and viewed their screen. Both individuals saw the same thing.
First, in each trial, they were shown two images, one of which contained a high-contrast target — and their job was to decide individually which model included the mark.
If their individual choices agreed, they received feedback and moved on to the next trial.
However, if they disagreed, they were asked to collaborate and discuss with their partner to reach a joint decision. One of the pairs then input this mutual decision.
The researchers found that, as expected, cooperation enabled the group to perform much better than the individuals alone when individuals had received only the placebo.
But, when given a testosterone supplement, the benefit of cooperation was markedly reduced.
In fact, higher levels of testosterone were associated with individuals behaving egocentrically and deciding in favor of their selection over their partner's.
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 implicated in a variety of social behaviors. For example, in chimpanzees, levels of testosterone rise ahead of a confrontation or a fight.
In female prisoners, studies have found that higher levels of testosterone correlate with increased antisocial behavior and higher aggression. Researchers believe that such findings reflect a more general role for testosterone in improving the motivation to dominate others and increase 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 size of the dose 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 production of testosterone, a feedback effect that will act to 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 is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of our Physicians and Staff.
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