The “look at me” hormone.

SciAm bursts the myth that testosterone is the source of male aggression. No, the truth is far worse. It’s the thing that turns men into hot doggers and showoffs:

To test the idea, the research team gave 121 women either 0.5 milligrams of testosterone or a placebo and had them play an ultimatum bargaining game. With real money on the line, one player was in charge of proposing how the two would split the funds via a computer interface. The other player could reject an offer if she thought it unfair—and if the game ended in a stalemate, no money was distributed. Given the common wisdom about testosterone, the players who had gotten the testosterone boost should be more likely to take a riskier, antisocial approach and lowball the initial offer in an effort to keep more money for themselves.

The behavior of the test subjects, however, did not ultimately confirm the stereotypes, according to the results, published online Tuesday in Nature (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

Those who had received testosterone actually made “significantly higher offers” than those who had gotten the placebo (offering an average of 39 percent of the money and 34 percent, respectively)—even after controlling for baseline testosterone levels and perceived testosterone consumption, the paper authors noted. These testosterone-fueled offers worked, “thereby reducing bargaining conflicts and increasing the efficiency of social interactions,” the researchers wrote. They attributed this shift to a desire of the testosterone group to maintain their images—by avoiding rejection—aligning with the so-called social status hypothesis.