Aggression, Testosterone, and Placebo effects

Or, as Boing Boing put it, “Hulk Smash Puny Placebo Effect!”:

Women who thought they were getting a dose of testosterone behaved more aggressively and selfishly–whether or not they’d really been given the hormone. Women who got testosterone and didn’t know it were actually more altruistic. The researchers suspect macho testosterone lore created a “license to misbehave” in the women who thought they were under its influence.

For a fuller discussion, see here. The author of the study concludes:

“Whereas other animals may be predominantly under the influence of biological factors such as hormones, biology seems to exert less control over human behaviour. Our findings also teach an important methodological lesson for future studies: it is crucial to control for subjects’ beliefs because the [effect of a pure substance] may be otherwise under- or overestimated.”

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)

5 thoughts on “Aggression, Testosterone, and Placebo effects

  1. That’s really interesting. And somehow not that surprising, given everything else we know about priming, etc.

  2. the whole ‘men can’t help being thoughtless’ schtick is *so* irksome. and, i think a lot of men do behave thoughtlessly and childishly because they’re constantly being told that they’re biologically thoughtless and childish. a little myth-dispelling once and for all would be fabulous.

  3. it’s refreshing to finally see what i think i’ve felt, as a male-bodied person, confirmed by scientific study. i never understood masculine posturing or aggression as biologically defined (though i’ve had my own sensitivity blamed on heightened exposure to estrogen in the womb!) because i never experienced those feelings as a biological male. although i imagine many men would have a lot of trouble “unlearning” what *is* culturally ingrained — myself included.

    i wonder what results we would see were men to be given estrogen and placebos.

  4. I’ve always considered that biologically based notions of male aggression went directly in opposition to old fashioned notions of masculinity — that it was about command, self-control, and rational self-awareness. It shows how far we’ve come when petulant behaviour is now defined as quintessentially masculine.

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