Testosterone is usually associated with dominance, sexual aggression, and…hairiness, but a recent study suggests a surprising trait: honesty.
Researchers at the University of Bonn asked 91 men to be treated with a testosterone gel. Forty-six of them would had actual testosterone gel applied to their skin, while the other 45 would receive a completely benign gel. To avoid any subconscious biases, none of the researchers who worked directly with the patients knew which of them had received actual testosterone.
Hormone specialists were brought in to test the subjects’ blood, verifying that their testosterone levels had been raised.
The participants were then asked to play a game. They went into a booth where the researchers couldn’t see what they were doing, and were asked to roll dice. After entering their scores into a computer, they would be paid based on how high their rolls were.
“Statistically, the probability for all numbers on the dice to occur is identical,” Dr Matthias Wibral, the lead author, explained. While it wouldn’t be possible for them to identify any individual as cheating, they would be able to tell how much the groups were cheating, on average.
The results were clear and statistically significant. The group with the higher testosterone count was more honest than the group with the lower testosterone count.
While testosterone is present in both men and women, its higher presence in men accounts for many of their physical and behavioral differences. Many previous studies suggest that it promotes aggression, risk taking, and posturing. Honesty doesn’t seem to fit in well with that group, demonstrating that things are rarely as one-dimensional as we would expect.
The researchers are careful to point out that it wasn’t necessarily honesty itself that was promoted by the testosterone. Instead, testosterone likely boosts pride and the need for a positive self-image. Cheating on a petty game for a few euros would have threatened this sense of pride.
The results of the study were published in PLoS ONE.