A study from 2020 suggests that high-testosterone men are more likely to ‘stand up for the little guy’, as it were, and adopt unpopular minority positions, making them vital ‘catalysts for social change’.
This statue of Jesus from Yeongcheon, South Korea seems to embody perfectly what this 2020 study is all about
Testosterone and Social Change
A 2020 study claims that, far from being associated with anti-social or domineering behaviour, having high testosterone may actually make men more prepared to stand up for ‘minority positions’ – i.e. positions that conflict with those of the majority – and, as a result, may make them more likely to be ‘catalysts for social change’. In short, men with high testosterone are happy to stand out from the crowd, whereas low T men prefer to be part of the herd.
The authors were building on previous studies that associated higher testosterone levels with status-seeking and risk-taking, hypothesising that higher testosterone would be associated with a greater receptivity for minority positions as a result.
The authors note that social change ‘often begins with the emergence of a new point of view initially endorsed by a minority’. But while the social factors that influence people to take minority positions have been studied in some depth, there has been little attention to the ways biology and in particular hormones might influence such behaviour.
This just seemed appropriate somehow. Get yer lighters out!
They also note that, contrary to popular belief, higher testosterone levels are not necessarily correlated with anti-social or domineering behaviour. Instead, ‘there is a growing consensus among scholars that the effects of testosterone can be best understood in terms of the goal to enhance and protect one’s social status.’ Because the social situation dictates what kinds of behaviour serve this goal, testosterone can be implicated in a wide range of different behaviours, from pro-social behaviour to aggression, sports to trading.
The authors used a ‘consensus approach’ to judge whether individuals with higher base rates of testosterone would be more or less likely to conflict with others and endorse a minority position. They conducted two studies involving short messages that the participants, whose testosterone levels were also measured via their saliva, had either to agree or disagree with. The statements also included information about the percentage of other people that agreed or disagreed with them.
These rather scary-looking tables illustrate that those with higher testosterone were more likely to agree with the minority consensus than those with low testosterone
On the basis of the results, the authors conclude:
‘Across two studies, we found that the more levels of basal testosterone increased, the more positive participants’ attitudes became toward the minority position. By contrast, there was no relationship between basal testosterone and participants’ attitudes toward the majority position.’
This research chimes nicely with other work we’ve written about recently.
Recently we’ve reported on a number of studies that suggest that testosterone may actually be associated with admirable forms of behaviour. For instance, one study showed that higher testosterone may be associated with greater faithfulness towards one’s partner.
Tale as old as time / Beauty and the…
Of course, this may seem paradoxical at first, as we note:
‘If you or I were to take a straw poll right now on whether high-testosterone men are more or less faithful than low testosterone men, it’s likely that most people would answer ‘less faithful’. After all, isn’t testosterone what makes men more bloke-y, and isn’t part of being a bloke chasing after anything with a pulse? Depending on who you asked, perhaps you’d even be given a little lecture on ‘toxic masculinity’, levels of which rise dangerously as men become more saturated with testosterone; perhaps even a man might say this to you.’
In actual fact, testosterone seems to encourage men to habituate themselves to having sex with a single partner, rather than making them chase anything that moves (or is stupid enough to stand still).
Two other studies, which we also reported on, showed that higher testosterone was actually correlated with greater honesty. This was tested through the application of testosterone gel to the skin of certain subjects who were taking part in a series of morality-based games.
The graphs above come from one of the games in which participants could cheat to win a greater amount of money (‘reported payoff’). Those who had the testosterone gel administered cheated far less than those who received the placebo.
Although further research on this very interesting topic clearly needs to be done, it’s clear that our popular understandings of testosterone and stereotypes of ‘roid ragers’ need to be thrown on the dustheap of history.
And maybe – just maybe – we might realise that emasculating men, far from making the world a better place, will actually only cause further suffering. What we need is more testosterone – not less!
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