MAY 01, 2017 2:29 PM PDT

Extra testosterone makes men 'go with their gut'

Men who took high doses of testosterone performed worse on a test designed to measure cognitive reflection—the process in which we stop to consider if our gut reactions are right.

“What we found was the testosterone group was quicker to make snap judgments on brain teasers where your initial guess is usually wrong,” says Colin Camerer, professor of behavioral economics and leadership chair of the T&C Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience at the Caltech. “The testosterone is either inhibiting the process of mentally checking your work or increasing the intuitive feeling that ‘I’m definitely right.'”

The study, which is one of the largest of its type ever conducted, included 243 men who were randomly selected to receive a dose of testosterone gel or placebo gel before taking a cognitive reflection test. A math task was also given to control for participant engagement, motivation level, and basic math skills.

“If men want more testosterone to increase sex drive, are there other effects? Do these men become too mentally bold and thinking they know things they don’t?”

The following question exemplifies those on the cognitive reflection test: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

For many people, the first answer that comes to mind is that the ball costs 10 cents, but that’s incorrect because then the bat costs only 90 cents more than the ball. The correct answer is that the ball costs 5 cents and the bat costs $1.05. An individual prone to relying on their gut instincts would be more likely to accept their first answer of 10 cents. However, another person might realize their initial error through cognitive reflection and come up with the correct answer.

Participants were not limited on time while taking the test and were offered $1 for each correct answer and an additional $2 if they answered all the questions correctly.

The results show that the group that received testosterone scored significantly lower than the group that received the placebo, on average answering 20 percent fewer questions correctly. The testosterone group also “gave incorrect answers more quickly, and correct answers more slowly than the placebo group,” the authors write. The same effect was not seen in the results of the basic math tests administered to both groups. The results “demonstrate a clear and robust causal effect of [testosterone] on human cognition and decision-making,” they conclude.

The researchers believe that the phenomenon they’ve observed can be linked to testosterone’s effect of increasing confidence in humans. Testosterone is thought to generally enhance the male drive for social status, and recent studies have shown that confidence enhances status.

“We think it works through confidence enhancement. If you’re more confident, you’ll feel like you’re right and will not have enough self-doubt to correct mistakes,” Camerer says.

Camerer says the results of the study raise questions about potential negative effects of the growing testosterone-replacement therapy industry, which is primarily aimed at reversing the decline in sex drive many middle-aged men experience.

“If men want more testosterone to increase sex drive, are there other effects? Do these men become too mentally bold and thinking they know things they don’t?”

This article was originally published on futurity.org

About the Author
  • Futurity features the latest discoveries by scientists at top research universities in the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The nonprofit site, which launched in 2009, is supported solely by its university partners (listed below) in an effort to share research news directly with the public.
You May Also Like
AUG 29, 2020
Neuroscience
Psychedelics Treat Depression by Helping People Accept Emotions
AUG 29, 2020
Psychedelics Treat Depression by Helping People Accept Emotions
Researchers have found that psychedelic drugs improve mental health by helping individuals better accept their emotions ...
SEP 15, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Turmeric Better than Placebo for Osteoarthritis Pain
SEP 15, 2020
Turmeric Better than Placebo for Osteoarthritis Pain
Researchers from the University of Tasmania in Australia have found that an extract from turmeric is more effective than ...
OCT 02, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Detecting Dystonia in the Blink of an AI
OCT 02, 2020
Detecting Dystonia in the Blink of an AI
A team of scientists have created a diagnostic tool, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), that can pick up on the su ...
OCT 22, 2020
Immunology
Migraines: Dark Times and (Pharmaceutical) Rays of Hope
OCT 22, 2020
Migraines: Dark Times and (Pharmaceutical) Rays of Hope
Despite being commonly used interchangeably, headaches and migraines are worlds apart. Migraines are by far much more pr ...
NOV 01, 2020
Microbiology
SARS-CoV-2 Disrupts the Blood Brain Barrier
NOV 01, 2020
SARS-CoV-2 Disrupts the Blood Brain Barrier
SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 has to get into cells to cause infection. It does so with a spike protein on its surfa ...
DEC 01, 2020
Neuroscience
Shorter Reinforcement Delays Make Neurofeedback More Effective
DEC 01, 2020
Shorter Reinforcement Delays Make Neurofeedback More Effective
Researchers at Russia's Higher School of Economics (HSE) have found that reducing delay in neurofeedback (NFB) signi ...
Loading Comments...