May 25, 2010
Testosterone Makes Naive Women Less Trusting

Only the most socially naive women were made less trusting by 0.5 milligrams of testosterone.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences asked adult women to rate the trustworthiness of photos of strangers' faces.

The hormone testosterone, normally linked to competition and dominance, made the most socially naive women more vigilant.

If these results are significant then would lowering testosterone make women more trusting? Also, what about men?

Here's an excerpt from the abstract.

Testosterone, a steroid hormone associated with competition and dominance, is often viewed as an inhibitor of sociality, and may have antagonistic properties with oxytocin. The following experiment tests this possibility in a placebo-controlled, within-subjects design involving the administration of testosterone to 24 female subjects. We show that compared with the placebo, testosterone significantly decreases interpersonal trust, and, as further analyses established, this effect is determined by those who give trust easily. We suggest that testosterone adaptively increases social vigilance in these trusting individuals to better prepare them for competition over status and valued resources. In conclusion, our data provide unique insights into the hormonal regulation of human sociality by showing that testosterone downregulates interpersonal trust in an adaptive manner.

I would like to know whether women who are more inclined to feel trust have lower blood testosterone. Ditto for more trusting men.

The researchers above mention oxytocin's role in making people more social. Well, other research finds that oxytocin makes men more empathic. I hear Ray Davies of the Kinks singing "Lola": "Girls will be boys and boys will be girls". This is possible to achieve with copious use of hormones.

48 healthy males participated in the experiment. Half received an oxytocin nose spray at the start of the experiment, the other half a placebo. The researchers then showed their test subjects photos of emotionally charged situations in the form of a crying child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man. The test subjects were then invited to express the depth of feeling they experienced for the persons shown.

In summary, Dr. René Hurlemann of Bonn University´s Clinic for Psychiatry was able to state that "significantly higher emotional empathy levels were recorded for the oxytocin group than for the placebo group", despite the fact that the participants in the placebo group were perfectly able to provide rational interpretations of the facial expressions displayed. The administration of oxytocin simply had the effect of enhancing the ability to experience fellow-feeling. The males under test achieved levels which would normally only be expected in women. Under normal circumstances, the "weak" sex enjoys a clear advantage when it comes to the subject of "empathy".

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 May 25 09:53 PM  Brain Sex Differences

dave in dallas said at May 27, 2010 2:56 PM:

as an older male, I can honestly say that as testosterone decreases, I gradually lose my desire to enter into conflict. This is the real change, not the increase of trust or whatever. It is the reduction of 'readiness', for violence or other forms of defense, the feeling of having less strength and less staying power (not talking sex here, but general vitality)...

I am more into 'going along to get along' on matters which do not rest on fundamental principle. I recall being more interested in getting my way when I was younger, as opposed to being more interested in avoidance of needless conflict today. I have become more diplomatic.

It is not about trust or lack of it, it is about energy and spirit.

GonzoBean said at May 27, 2010 3:25 PM:

So the take away here is that males who persuade their girlfriends to routinely absorb doses of testosterone (presumably via sexual means) will receive the added benefit that it makes their mates less trusting of other males? Interesting for the impacts of testosterone and frequent sex on issues of monogamy and attraction.

comatus said at May 27, 2010 3:33 PM:

Dave, "Hope I die before I get old."
I am old--bloody ancient, you might say--and you don't speak for me.
"Testosterone decrease" and "balls falling off" are not the same thing.
Wimp out on your own dime, and stop blaming your body chemistry.

setnaffa said at May 27, 2010 6:19 PM:

like comatus said...

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