The honest hormone

written by Terry Robson


Testosterone gets blamed for lots of things: war, sexism, lust, competitiveness, and aggression spring to mind, none of which are particular high points of the human condition. So let us speak here in praise of testosterone, this oft derided hormone, because if a new study is right then a boost of testosterone might provoke a bit of honesty in the hearts of men.

In the study half of the men had a testosterone gel applied to their skin while the rest were given a placebo gel. The day after the gel was applies blood samples were taken to measure whether blood levels of testosterone had increased but neither researchers or participants knew who had been given the testosterone.

After the testosterone levels were measured the participants were asked to play a dice game sitting in isolated booths. The higher their scores as self-reported, the more money they received. Since the participants were in isolated booths they could lie if they chose. However, the statistical probability of dice rolling is that over a number of rolls the totals will even out. If a man reported his scores as being much higher, or much lower, than the predicted statistical norm then the chances are that they were lying.

After analysing the results it emerged that men who had been given a testosterone surge were much more likely to be honest than the men who had not received testosterone.

It might be, according to the researchers, that testosterone boosts levels of pride among men and that in turn leads to them wanting to portray a positive self-image by being honest. Being paid a few extra dollars is obviously not enough of an incentive to jeopardise your sense of self-worth.

In the end though, testosterone led to greater levels of honesty and for a hormone generally regarded as having anti-social effects on behaviour, that’s not a bad thing. One hesitates to suggest it, but could it be that testosterone might be behind the recent flood of honest confessions coming out of a certain two-wheeled sport?

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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.