September 30, 2013
Testosterone Increases Female Generosity

Testosterone can cause behavior that strengthens relationships in some circumstances.

Boosting testosterone can promote generosity, but only when there is no threat of competition, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings show that testosterone is implicated in behaviors that help to foster and maintain social relationships, indicating that its effects are more nuanced than previously thought.

Given that male leaders need to inspire trust and cooperation in those who follow them I do not find this result surprising. The result cuts against the conventional wisdom that maleness is the root of all evil. But the conventional wisdom is wrong.

In a laboratory game testosterone decreased trust in women investors but increased generosity of female financial trustees.

As investors, participants who received testosterone were, on average, stingier — they placed less trust in the trustee and kept more of their initial money. Participants who received the placebo, on the other hand, were more trusting investors, choosing to invest about €3.20 more than those who received testosterone.

Just as the researchers predicted, testosterone seemed to promote antisocial behavior in response to a potential threat — in this case, a threat to financial resources.

But the opposite effect emerged when participants played the role of trustee. In this case, participants given testosterone chose to give more money back to the investor than participants who had been given a placebo. The results suggest that the trustees felt a responsibility to repay the trust that the investor ostensibly placed in them.

“While we expected the decrease in trust found in the first scenario, the increase in reciprocity was surprisingly strong and robust,” Boksem notes. “Testosterone had a more pronounced effect on prosocial behavior than on antisocial behavior.”

It would be interesting to measure behavior of both men and women in such games without added testosterone but blood testosterone measured and also various measures of masculinity measured. For example, does a lower 2D:4D hand digit ratio correlate with less investor trust and greater trustee generosity?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 September 30 09:23 PM 

Tom Billings said at September 30, 2013 9:52 PM:

This is not too odd at all.

Even 50 years ago, you could read that while double or triple the normal top range for male testosterone could make rage far more probable, raising testosterone *within* that normal range (stated then as 250-1250, and now as 200-900) actually made males more calm and confident in dealing with others. That it would do so in females is not odd at all.

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