Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour

Abstract

Both biosociological and psychological models, as well as animal research, suggest that testosterone has a key role in social interactions1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Evidence from animal studies in rodents shows that testosterone causes aggressive behaviour towards conspecifics7. Folk wisdom generalizes and adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic, or even aggressive human behaviours. However, many researchers have questioned this folk hypothesis1,2,3,4,5,6, arguing that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behaviours in challenging social interactions, but causal evidence that discriminates between these views is sparse. Here we show that the sublingual administration of a single dose of testosterone in women causes a substantial increase in fair bargaining behaviour, thereby reducing bargaining conflicts and increasing the efficiency of social interactions. However, subjects who believed that they received testosterone—regardless of whether they actually received it or not—behaved much more unfairly than those who believed that they were treated with placebo. Thus, the folk hypothesis seems to generate a strong negative association between subjects’ beliefs and the fairness of their offers, even though testosterone administration actually causes a substantial increase in the frequency of fair bargaining offers in our experiment.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Sequence of events in the double-blind study with testosterone and placebo administration.
Figure 2: The proposers’ mean offers in the ultimatum game across treatments and beliefs.
Figure 3: Distribution of proposers’ offers conditional on their beliefs.

References

  1. 1

    Mazur, A. & Booth, A. Testosterone and dominance in men. Behav. Brain Sci. 21, 353–363 (1998)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Mazur, A. Biosociology of Dominance and Deference (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005)

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Josephs, R. A., Newman, M. L., Brown, R. P. & Beer, J. M. Status, testosterone, and human intellectual performance: stereotype threat as status concern. Psychol. Sci. 14, 158–163 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Josephs, R. A., Sellers, J. G., Newman, M. L. & Mehta, P. H. The mismatch effect: when testosterone and status are at odds. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 90, 999–1013 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Schultheiss, O. C., Campbell, K. L. & McClelland, D. C. Implicit power motivation moderates men’s testosterone responses to imagined and real dominance success. Horm. Behav. 36, 234–241 (1999)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Archer, J. Testosterone and human aggression: an evaluation of the challenge hypothesis. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 30, 319–345 (2006)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Edwards, D. A. Early androgen stimulation and aggressive behavior in male and female mice. Physiol. Behav. 4, 333–338 (1969)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Björkqvist, K., Nygren, T., Björklund, A. C. & Björkqvist, S. E. Testosterone intake and aggressiveness - real effect or anticipation. Aggress. Behav. 20, 17–26 (1994)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Pope, H. G. & Katz, D. L. Homicide and near-homicide by anabolic-steroid users. J. Clin. Psychiatry 51, 28–31 (1990)

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Dabbs, J. M., Carr, T. S., Frady, R. L. & Riad, J. K. Testosterone, crime, and misbehavior among 692 male prison-inmates. Pers. Individ. Dif. 18, 627–633 (1995)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Dabbs, J. M. & Hargrove, M. F. Age, testosterone, and behavior among female prison inmates. Psychosom. Med. 59, 477–480 (1997)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U. The nature of human altruism. Nature 425, 785–791 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Camerer, C. F. Behavioral Game Theory: Experiments in Strategic Interaction (Princeton Univ. Press, 2003)

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Güth, W., Schmittberger, R. & Schwarze, B. An experimental analyses of ultimatum bargaining. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 3, 367–388 (1982)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Roth, A., Prasnikar, V., Okuno-Fujiwara, M. & Zamir, S. Bargaining and market behavior in Jerusalem, Ljubljana, Pittsburgh and Tokyo: An experimental study. Am. Econ. Rev. 81, 1068–1095 (1991)

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Forsythe, R., Horowitz, J. L., Savin, N. E. & Sefton, M. Fairness in simple bargaining games. Games Econ. Behav. 6, 347–369 (1994)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Henrich, J. et al. In search of Homo economicus: behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies. Am. Econ. Rev. 91, 73–78 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Knoch, D. et al. Diminishing reciprocal fairness by disrupting the right prefrontal cortex. Science 314, 829–832 (2006)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Burnham, T. C. High-testosterone men reject low ultimatum game offers. Proc. R. Soc. B 274, 2327–2330 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Crockett, M. J. et al. Serotonin modulates behavioral reactions to unfairness. Science 320, 1739 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Tuiten, A. et al. Time course of effects of testosterone administration on sexual arousal in women. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 57, 149–153 (2000)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Dabbs, J. M. et al. Saliva testosterone and criminal violence among women. Pers. Individ. Dif. 9, 269–275 (1988)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Purifoy, F. E. & Koopmans, L. H. Androstenedione, testosterone, and free testosterone concentration in women of various occupations. Soc. Biol. 26, 179–188 (1979)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Cashdan, E. Hormones, sex, and status in women. Horm. Behav. 29, 354–366 (1995)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Zethraeus, N. et al. A randomized trial of the effect of estrogen and testosterone on economic behavior. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 6535–6538 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Kosfeld, M. et al. Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature 435, 673–676 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Wallace, B., Cesarini, D., Lichtenstein, P. & Johannesson, M. Heritability of ultimatum game responder behavior. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 15631–15634 (2007)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    van Honk, J. et al. A single administration of testosterone induces cardiac accelerative responses to angry faces in healthy young women. Behav. Neurosci. 115, 238–242 (2001)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    van Honk, J., Peper, J. S. & Schutter, D. J. Testosterone reduces unconscious fear but not consciously experienced anxiety: implications for the disorders of fear and anxiety. Biol. Psychiatry 58, 218–225 (2005)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    van Honk, J. et al. Testosterone shifts the balance between sensitivity for punishment and reward in healthy young women. Psychoneuroendocrinology 29, 937–943 (2004)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Derogatis, L. R. SCL-90-R, Administration, Scoring & Procedures Manual-I for the R(evised) Version (Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine, 1977)

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Stuenkel, C. A., Dudley, R. E. & Yen, S. S. Sublingual administration of testosterone-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin inclusion complex simulates episodic androgen release in hypogonadal men. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 72, 1054–1059 (1991)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Fischbacher, U. z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments. Exp. Econ. 10, 171–178 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Coates, J. M. & Herbert, J. Endogenous steroids and financial risk taking on a London trading floor. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 6167–6172 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Steyer, R., Schwenkmezger, P., Notz, P. & Eid, M. Der Mehrdimensionale Befindlichkeitsfragebogen (MDBF) (Hogrefe, 1997)

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Laux, L., Glanzmann, P., Schaffner, P. & Spielberger, C. D. Das State-Trait-Angstinventar (Beltz, 1981)

    Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Schwenkmezger, P., Hodapp, V. & Spielberger, C. D. Das State-Trait-Aergerausdruck-Inventar STAXI (Hans Huber, 1992)

    Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    Christie, R. & Geis, F. Studies in Machiavellism (Academic, 1970)

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39

    Goldberg, L. R. et al. The international personality item pool and the future of public-domain personality measures. J. Res. Pers. 40, 84–96 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This paper is part of the Research Priority Program ‘Foundations of Human Social Behaviour—Altruism versus Egoism’ at the University of Zurich. We also acknowledge support by the National Center of Competence in Affective Sciences, the Neurochoice Project of SystemsX, and the Swiss National Science Foundation. We thank F. Heusi for her research assistance during the conduct of the experiments.

Author Contributions C.E, E.F., M.H. and M.N. designed research; C.E. and R.S. conducted the experiment; C.E., E.F. and M.N. planned the data analysis; C.E. and M.N. performed data analysis; C.E., E.F., M.H. and M.N. wrote the paper.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to C. Eisenegger or E. Fehr.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Statistics and Results, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Data and Supplementary References. (PDF 199 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains the Supplementary Data for this paper. (TXT 14 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Eisenegger, C., Naef, M., Snozzi, R. et al. Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. Nature 463, 356–359 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08711

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing