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Testosterone And Bad Decision-Making

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Often living by the motto: “shoot first and ask questions later”, men have a tendency to be more hotheaded and impulsive than women and are also more likely to act on gut instinct, forgetting to think before taking action.  Is it a myth or is there a reason? A recent study from Caltech, the Wharton School, Western University, and ZRT Laboratory may have found the answer: testosterone.

The researchers selected 243 healthy men. These men randomly received a single dose of testosterone or a placebo before taking a cognitive reflection test. The test was designed in a way that the first answer that comes to mind is usually wrong, the right answer demanding some ulterior thinking.

Example: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? When faced with this question, an immediate incorrect answer (10 cents) automatically arises in most people’s minds. Obtaining the correct answer ($0.05) requires simple calculations, yet detecting the incorrect answer requires cognitive reflection on the validity of the intuitive answer.

So, as you can guess, men that received the testosterone doses failed miserably compared to the males receiving only the placebo.  The results “demonstrate a clear and robust causal effect of testosterone on human cognition and decision-making,” the authors write.

testosterone boosts self esteem“What we found was the testosterone group was quicker to make snap judgments on brain teasers where your initial guess is usually wrong,” says Caltech’s ProfessorColin Camerer. “The testosterone is either inhibiting the process of mentally checking your work or increasing the intuitive feeling that ‘I’m definitely right.'”

The researchers believe that what they observed with this test could be linked to testosterone increasing confidence and inhibiting self-doubts.

So you can expect that in situations increasing testosterone in men such as winning contests or being in the presence of attractive mates, males will show less restraint and significantly less cognitive thinking. Remind you of someone? Yeah, me too.

But, it has also important public health implications. In our western society, the testosterone-replacement therapy industry is growing and is mostly aimed at reversing the decline of sex drive in middle-aged men.

“The possibility that testosterone might have deleterious influences on certain aspects of judgment and decision-making should be investigated further and taken into account by users, therapists, and policy makers.”

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