I’m sure you’ve heard the idea that men with too much testosterone are more aggressive.
They’re more likely to take risks, be egocentric, and more.
And there is evidence from animal studies which show testosterone causes aggressive behavior in those animals.
But we extend this assumption to humans and just accept the conclusion.
We accept that testosterone causes antisocial, egoistic, or even aggressive human behaviors.
While animal studies are useful in many ways, they don’t always translate to humans.
Take this study from the Universities of Zurich and Royal Holloway London.
It focused on more than 120 human participants — and the results contradict the animal studies.
The study shows that what testosterone does to behavior is encourage fair behaviors.
For this study, the 120 participants received real money.
Researchers asked them to distribute the money among themselves fairly.
Now, before the beginning of the game, a random group of the participants received a 0.5mg dose of testosterone.
The others received a placebo.
This is how they tested if the idea that testosterone causes selfish and aggressive behaviors in men is true.
If true, then the group that received the testosterone should behave more aggressively than the control.
They would obviously try to divide the money in their favor.
But the results completely contradict that preconception!
In fact, the subjects who believed they received the testosterone, but who actually received a placebo were unfair.
They were aggressive and selfish in the distributing the money.
But the subjects who really did get the testosterone became more preoccupied with distributing the money in a manner that was fair to all.
Humans have an incredibly complex social environment.
Behavior that is pro-social, or fair to all, gains respect and secures status.
But aggressive behavior leads to the opposite.
The subjects administered the testosterone were concerned with establishing and keeping their status within the group.
So they acted for the good of everyone.
The study proved that people who THOUGHT they were receiving extra testosterone acted on their beliefs on how they should act.
They believed that the testosterone would make them more aggressive and behaved that way.
That belief led them to make aggressive, unfair proposals for distributing the wealth.
But they didn’t get the testosterone, so it was only their belief that caused the behavior.
Now, what does that mean for the rodent studies that showed testosterone caused aggression?
Well, taking those into consideration alongside this human study, there are new conclusions.
Can testosterone cause anger? No.
Instead, testosterone PLUS society’s values are what mostly affects human behavior.
Testosterone itself does not make us aggressive, selfish, unreasonable people.
It takes other environmental factors to make us like that.