Learning Lab

Does Testosterone always mean aggression?

Clearly not according to Swiss neuroscientist Christoph Eisenegger (University of Zurich). Normally we associate testosterone to xyz When working with men or women the effect of testosterone is most frequently observed through these types of ‘typical’ behaviours or traits.

Eisenegger and his team designed a study that would focus on women, testosterone and money. The study involved a game that comprised of two women and a pile of money. One of the players offered the other play a ‘one-time only’ deal on how to divide the money. If the other player accepted the offer then they both received that share of money each. However, if she rejects the offer then neither person receives anything.

The female player who got to make the offer was given either testosterone or a placebo. She was given enough testosterone to push her baseline level up by 400% (so enough to make a difference!). The women were also asked to guess, which they had received, the real deal or the placebo.

Here were the results:

Women who received a placebo but believed they received testosterone:

Fair offer 10% of the time

Women who received a placebo and believed they received a placebo:

Fair offer 50% of the time

Women who received testosterone but believed they received a placebo:

Fair offer 60% of the time

Women who received testosterone and believed they received testosterone:

Fair offer 30% of the time

What does this tell us? Well, it certainly could help give testosterone a better name! But more importantly it clearly illustrates the combination of belief and hormones. When the women believed they received testosterone they behaved very differently to when they believed they received a placebo…even though what was hormonally acting on them from a testosterone perspective was the same.

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