Guys who might not be so great at thinking things through may be able to blame their impulsiveness on testosterone, according to new research that seems to backup the old stereotype of the hot-headed guy. A new study links the sex hormone to relying on "gut instincts" over self reflection and more deliberate, slow consideration.
A team of researchers set out to test the hypothesis that testosterone influences men to rely more on their instincts and intuitions at the expense of cognitive reflection, which is basically taking a moment to consider the wisdom of that initial gut reaction.
The scientists from Caltech, the Wharton School, Western University, and ZRT Laboratory tested the cognitive reflection of men given doses of testosterone versus those given a placebo and found that old tropes of guys charging into battle or simply reacting in the heat of a moment aren't just a Hollywood creation.
"The testosterone group was quicker to make snap judgments on brain teasers where your initial guess is usually wrong," explains Caltech Behavioral Economics professor Colin Camerer. "The testosterone is either inhibiting the process of mentally checking your work or increasing the intuitive feeling that 'I'm definitely right.'"
also seen studies indicating that boosting testosterone in older women is
actually useful in preventing cognitive decline, which is certainly different
from cognitive reflection, but interesting nonetheless.
The CalTech study was conducted using 243 men in different groups who were asked to take a cognitive reflection test that included questions like: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
The quick and intuitive answer for many people might be that the ball costs ten cents, but the correct answer is that the ball costs 5 cents. Go ahead and check the math yourself, and then perhaps check your hormone levels if you got it wrong.
For a little extra incentive, the study participants were paid $1 for each correct answer and $2 extra if they answered all questions correctly.
Men who received testosterone before taking the test got 20 percent fewer questions right than those who received a placebo. The group with the hormone boost also "gave incorrect answers more quickly, and correct answers more slowly than the placebo group," the study reads.
"We think it works through confidence enhancement. If you're more confident, you'll feel like you're right and will not have enough self-doubt to correct mistakes," Camerer says.
More basic math tests requiring less reflection were also given to both groups as a control, and the testosterone did not seem to cause a difference between the groups in the results of those tests.
Camerer notes that their results could have implications for the growing use of testosterone replacement drugs to increase sex drive in older men.
"If men want more testosterone to increase sex drive, are there other effects? Do these men become too mentally bold and thinking they know things they don't?"
The research will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.