Testosterone "prompts fair play, not aggression"

Tue Dec 8, 2009 12:25pm EST
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Testosterone makes people behave badly, but only because of our own prejudices about its effect, not its true biological action, scientists said on Tuesday.

A Swiss and British study found evidence that debunks the myth that testosterone causes aggressive, egocentric behavior, suggesting instead that the sex hormone can encourage fair play -- particularly if it improves a person's status.

"We wanted to verify how the hormone affects social behavior," said Christoph Eisenegger, a neuroscientist at the University of Zurich who worked on the study. "We were interested in the question: what is truth, and what is myth?"

The study, published in the journal Nature, analyzed around 120 women who were asked to distribute a real amount of money.

Participants were given either a testosterone pill or a placebo, or dummy pill, and allowed to make both fair and unfair offers which their negotiating partners could accept or reject.

"If one were to believe the common opinion, we would expect subjects who received testosterone to adopt aggressive, egocentric and risky strategies -- regardless of the possibly negative consequences on the negotiation process," Eisenegger said in a commentary.

But the results contradicted that view. Those who had been given testosterone generally made better, fairer offers than those who got placebos, reducing the risk of rejection.

The scientists said their findings suggest testosterone increases sensitivity about personal status. In animals, that may come out as aggression, they said, but in humans it may require a more subtle and less combative approach.   Continued...

<p>A competitor poses in front of the judges during the national champions bodybuilding tournament in Havana November 8, 2009. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>