Friday, June 11, 2010

Testosterone decreases trust.

Fascinating observations from Bos et al., who tested the effect of testosterone in regulating womens' rating of the trustworthiness of a series of men’s faces shown in photographs. It is essentially an antidote to oxytocin, which has been shown to increase judgments of trustworthiness. Their abstract:
Trust plays an important role in the formation and maintenance of human social relationships. But trusting others is associated with a cost, given the prevalence of cheaters and deceivers in human society. Recent research has shown that the peptide hormone oxytocin increases trust in humans. However, oxytocin also makes individuals susceptible to betrayal, because under influence of oxytocin, subjects perseverate in giving trust to others they know are untrustworthy. Testosterone, a steroid hormone associated with competition and dominance, is often viewed as an inhibitor of sociality, and may have antagonistic properties with oxytocin. The following experiment tests this possibility in a placebo-controlled, within-subjects design involving the administration of testosterone to 24 female subjects. We show that compared with the placebo, testosterone significantly decreases interpersonal trust, and, as further analyses established, this effect is determined by those who give trust easily. We suggest that testosterone adaptively increases social vigilance in these trusting individuals to better prepare them for competition over status and valued resources. In conclusion, our data provide unique insights into the hormonal regulation of human sociality by showing that testosterone downregulates interpersonal trust in an adaptive manner.
Also, check out this article by Nicholas Wade in the NYTimes discussing this work and comments on its relevance to understanding human evolution.

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