Okay, today’s post is a bit “off the wall,” so indulge me…
I was fascinated to read the results of a recent study linking testosterone to aggressive behavior and selfishness. The results confirmed previous research findings that associated selfishness with testosterone. Evidently, testosterone acts to decrease activity in the brain’s temporoparietal junction, which is a region associated with generosity, and “reduces consideration of the needs and desires of others, which leads to more selfish behaviors.”
The more testosterone, the greater these effects.
The researchers are careful to note that their findings don’t necessarily suggest testosterone inherently makes people selfish, but that testosterone “reduced concern for the profits of others.”
While this study only looked at healthy, young adult males — and thus may or may not apply to other ages and genders — it does add to the pile of studies suggesting increased testosterone can lead to decreased consideration for the needs of others. What this study also reveals are the neural mechanisms by which that happens.
These results encouraged me to consider a number of (highly speculative) theories.
In early human history, men who produced ample amounts of testosterone were undoubtedly advantaged–their aggressiveness would have paid off in the hunt, and more successful hunters would be advantaged in the competition for the most attractive and fertile women.
Early men were thus socially dominant, and that male dominance continued–undoubtedly assisted by high levels of testosterone that gave business “movers and shakers” an aggressive edge, and contributed to the high status enjoyed by warriors of various types.
Women, of course, were disadvantaged for eons by our fertility; without the ability to control our reproduction, women have been relegated to a homemaking role and hampered in efforts to enter the workforce.
These roles were cemented into society through the various cultural influences that accepted them as givens: religions that preached about women’s submission, social mores that stressed expected aspects of femininity and masculinity.
That all began to change with the invention of reliable birth control and the development of economies that no longer rely on workers’ brute strength. When the value of an individual to the workforce depends primarily upon intellect and the ability to work well with others, enhanced aggressiveness and “decreased consideration for the needs of others” are no longer assets.
The metrics by which we evaluate the competence of government are also undergoing change. Those of us who believe that good governance requires compassion and unifying social policies look longingly at the Jacinda Arderns and Angela Merkels of the world, and view blustering bullies like Vladimir Putin, Bibi Netanyahu and Donald Trump as unfortunate–and dangerous– throwbacks.
Perhaps–on balance– women are better equipped to govern the world we currently inhabit.
That said, these speculations are obviously far too broad-brush. There are plenty of belligerent and selfish women and I encounter increasing numbers of thoughtful, caring men. Furthermore, testosterone is only one small element of nature in the still-hazy relationship between nature and nurture.
Still, it is interesting to step back and view the arc of history and social change through a biological lens–and to consider whether the development of methods to balance people’s hormones would lead to world peace or, in the alternative, to an unintended dystopia…
27 thoughts on “Testosterone And Government”
I think the last four years taught us that testosterone combined with narcissism is dangerous, while testosterone with combine with empathy is much more preferable.
This study may be recent but the evidence has been shown for many years in drawings and cartoons of early cavemen with a club in one hand and dragging their chosen woman home to their cave by her hair. And the “boys will be boys” acceptance regarding their dominance over girls and women carried over to men of all ages in the political arena. Isn’t the raging battle against LGBTQs based in the fear of loss of testosterone/sexual dominance and control over women and blocking their access to birth control over all segments of society? Just sayin’
Not that I don’t agree, but I’ve never expected to see this on one of your blog posts Sheila??.
Now that that’s out of the way, for quite a while they recognized the value of saltpeter in the prison systems. It did tend to take a certain violent edge off of the male prison population. I also believe it was supposed to prevent the alpha males from raping each other to death, ?!
I also believe that lawsuits stopped the use of saltpeter in the prison systems, and that probably was a mistake!
One thing’s for sure, I can’t see Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton and the rest of the cast of clowns, ?as having an abundance of testosterone!
Unfortunately this same group is also completely devoid of estrogen which males also produce in small quantities. and I believe the studies have shown estrogen does make males more compassionate individuals.
I think the answer could probably be a neurological malfunction or deficiency caused by getting one’s Ass (not donkey ?) Whipped on a constant basis! Either by their guardians when younger or being bullied in school, that in itself would explain the cowardly behavior and the desire for symbolic, or not, male measuring contests!
Unfortunately, bigger is not always better especially if one doesn’t know how to use it?? maybe that’s where the term cocksure came from? ?
If this “theory” is true, and since the Republican party is dominated by angry, white males, it follows that they all suffer from testosterone poisoning.
To embellish some other points: Female humans are rare among large mammals in having short estrus cycles. In that “caveman” scenario, the alpha males dominated the mating activities just as they do among other primate communities and a host of other large mammal populations. Sea lions, elk, deer, etc., demonstrate the same social/mating situation.
So, in the very old days, the tribe of humans had to have females coming into “season” on a regular basis in order to out-reproduce the predation from predators, disease, accidents and very high male attrition from the hunting part of hunter-gatherer. That said, marriage became a “sophisticated” method of property management of testosterone-laced males controlling females. Today, we have this situation “managed” by churches. Is it any wonder that women are defined as subservient to males still?
Yes, in today’s world, women will be the better choice for governing because they will indeed see to the betterment of the people they are asked to govern.
While it would be nice to think we are evolving, there are far too many testosterone supplements to make anyone believe that’s truly happening.
Well, John, in private, I believe Lindsey would argue with you about having low levels of estrogen and high levels of testosterone — he’s known as Madam in certain circles.
This study has already been refuted by Erin Brockovich’s recent article on a book released based on several new studies showing sperm counts have been plummeting for decades due to forever chemicals, mainly from plastic and fertilizer, but there are many other sources.
My endocrinologist mentioned it over a decade ago when I was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He referred me to a study where fish and frogs have both sex organs. Because they absorb the chemicals more quickly, it impacted them first. Of course, Big Oil & Chemical has done what they always do with our government — eliminate the evidence.
He said the health industry is making a fortune on ED and depression meds — once again, our for-profit healthcare system isn’t speaking about our drop-in testosterone. They want to profit from it by treating the symptoms.
Zero sperm counts are predicted by 2045.
“The chemicals to blame for this crisis are found in everything from plastic containers and food wrapping, to waterproof clothes and fragrances in cleaning products, to soaps and shampoos, to electronics and carpeting. Some of them, called PFAS, are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t breakdown in the environment or the human body. They just accumulate and accumulate – doing more and more damage, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Now, it seems, humanity is reaching a breaking point.”
Ut seems to me, that a study on the patterns of policing and the use of supplemental testosterone ought to conducted given the extreme behavior against African-American citizens.
Excellent comment, well put and made. Also, very informative, thanks.
Along with Vernon’s comment, this makes a very informed analytical! Nice information, the first part of your comment, yeah, I don’t think I would want to be alone with Lindsey Graham anywhere, lol!
Also todd, on a personal note, sorry to hear about the type one! That really sucks.
What immediately came to mind when I read this is the studies that show being in a position of dominance actually increases testosterone, which means being elected to high office, or being very rich causes a lack of generosity or consideration of the needs of others. This suggests that most of the men in Congress are terrible people to be making choices for the rest of us. Electing more women would be a positive step towards better governance, no doubt. I would love to see a portion of congress or a separate body with substantial power be made up of people who are sent there temporarily by a random lottery system. Like jury duty- and you could opt out or be disqualified for various reasons. This might bypass the millionaire boys club system and some of the testosterone poisoning that is poisoning our democracy.
The journey from animal to thinking human has been long and arduous and guided all of the way by culture, from personal to global averages. It certainly has been effective evidenced by the number of us but culture meant to slow down the rate of change of generations has always been both a welcome guide and a source of generation gap friction. It’s no different as we learn to be thinking civilized connected people all of one tribe because of technology and travel.
Sex has always been the foundation for families as have been gender roles. We are evolving and learning to keep up with our ability to innovate and live in the civilization that we create as we go along.
It’s tough to be a woman and tough to be a man. Our goal should not be to make things easy but we need to be effective problem solvers together to keep the wolves progress creates from our door.
The government needs to represent all of us. Part of that is to look like all of us governed folks. That should be an expected result of democracy but there are many other factors that affect things as well.
It could well be that things are generally as they should be for now but change is not going away so friction motivates solutions that bend through the ages as progress.
Todd thanks for your comments. I think our environmental pollution is going make bigger changes quicker than evolution ever did. If it changes behavior is yet to be seen.
Very good points!
Reading the Inverse article that Sheila alluded to, seemed very interesting but also very incomplete and his research with a small sampling clinically.
It has been known in endocrinology, people who tend to be violent and or aggressive, can be related to brain activity that has gone askew. PTSD is a prime example. Now, I have a severe case of PTSD. If, I don’t religiously take my medication, it wouldn’t take much to to provoke a very physical and animated response in regards to a personal slight or a slur or disrespect towards my wife or other family member.
Interestingly, when I don’t take my PTSD medication, and I am prone to be more aggravated, my endocrinologist actually said that the brain activity changes and promotes the production of more testosterone through my endocrine system. The adrenal glands become active and engorged from signals being sent from the brain to the pituitary and then to the slave glands of the thyroid. These glands can stimulate the testicles to produce more testosterone. With age, automatically, the production of testosterone drops. In conjunction with this, the sperm count drops exponentially.
There is a reason for this based in nature and studied in science, the older a male is when they sire a child, the spermatozoa construct is really fragile and sometimes, err most times, convoluted from its original youthful design. This seems to produce offspring that have major psychological and physical flaws that cause Tumult in their family units. In other words, they tend to be really goofy and disruptive.
Sometimes, natural selection should be left alone, because some human breeding should not exist for the sake of society.
If, you look at societies across the millennia, population drops the more successful a society is! And by population I mean birth rate of those societies citizens. Those societies end up having to look towards immigration to maintain a level of functionality including productivity, reproduction, and defense. But, with the advent of science allowing people in their 70s 80s and 90s to reproduce, our advanced society creates its own unforeseen complications. Either Invitro or eventually artificially grown, humanity will have changed forever, and maybe not for the good. Imperfection should be left to natural selection, and, it usually is best not to go against nature.
We at this late date per JoAnn’s description of a cave man pulling a woman into his cave have an Ugg Glugg among our number, differing only in that instead of pulling women by their hair he prefers to “grab them by the —–.”
That some such as Ugg Glugg are still among us is not shocking in that there are always throwbacks in any large n up for statistical evaluation; what is shocking is that such a pre-neanderthal specimen could garner some 74 million votes in an election for the highest office in the land. Perhaps we are not yet out of the cave and need a new definition for throwbacks to comport with where we are on Darwin’s scale of civilization. Perhaps we need more sociologists and fewer lawyers in the Congress. Perhaps we need more Merkels and fewer Trumps. Perhaps . . . (the list goes on into infinity. . .
Personally, I think this “Study” is bogus. ->> “A team of researchers from China and Switzerland split 70 healthy males between the ages of 18 and 25 into two groups. Researchers rubbed 150 milligrams of a testosterone gel on the shoulders and upper arms one the testosterone group, and a placebo gel on the shoulders of the placebo group.”
What would you expect the results to be for 18-25 year old males and then rub testosterone on them. The word over dose comes to my mind.
Reproduction is the primary goal of evolution. Aggressive male behavior is well documented and observed through out our mammal cousins, in some instances when the rituals of dominance fail a fight to the death can result.
It is not so much selecting political leadership based on gender as the Sarah Palins of the GOP make clear. The political selection process comes down to money in politics.
An interesting book in this regard is Men Are Not Cost-Effective, by June Stephenson (1995). It relates testosterone levels to culture.
I have believed that there is such a thing as testosterone poisoning as discussed here. The study may not be conclusive, but if you look at money and how it corrupts some people, it doesn’t seem to matter that behavior can be undemocratic, racist, or contrary to equality. We women are more nurturing than men, in that we are also behaving based on our personal and individual hormonal cocktail. People can be seduced by money, power and we will not change that until the price for being anti social is greater than the reward for control over others. Environmental hazards to human growth and progress need a new equation that looks at the long term, rather that the short term. New leaders can learn from experienced, senior members of our government, so I don’t agree it would benefit us to continue selecting and electing the casual, unqualified citizen. It was proved that a supposed successful businessman was incompetent and corrupt, yet many millions voted for him, and still support him. His lack of sufficient amounts of testosterone are obvious in that he fails to be a protector of his own family, gladly exploiting his own children for his needy and greedy business practices only worked to alienate people who think critically, and have some education or appreciation for history, culture, and socially acceptable behavior. With qualified public leaders we can resolve that government is for the people not the politicians. More women in politics is helping but also partially offsetting that is the damage that modern day cave men do when they forget that to be human is what everyone shares, and the variety of hormonal cocktails is infinite. Add DNA and we have a whole conversation about each of us are unique, so we can only be equal in the law, not in everything we do.
if the republiqans waited 40 year to be this close to winning it all, then in recent
studies mention a reduction in sperm count and ruler size..
but by then we’ll need ventalators just to brethe..
This leads me to believe that Trump’s temporoparietal junction is missing entirely!
I read “…methods to balance…,” and I go “Uh oh! we have a eugenics situation, once again. ”
Yes, you are using a broad brush, but that does not, necessarily, mean that you are off base. And, as there are scillions of ways to be human, which genetics has shown us, for all we know, some of those “belligerent and aggressive” women might just have a higher level of “T” than is the norm for women (also a speculative point).
And, yes, there appear to be feedback loops in regard to T and status, and evolution is about reproductive success.
I believe that it is a mistake to attribute high T to the Empty Orange, as his Malignant Narcissism may not be related to T. The “special” fellow for whom this unofficial diagnosis was developed, was Hitler, and I am not familiar with any stories of his grabbing anything other than countries. I have read a good deal about him, but who knows? Given today’s context, I will go way off the chart and suggest that, perhaps, his version of a salute was a dog-whistle in praise of very youthful erectile function.lol
As referred to above, the advent of birth control may go down in history as the point at which human culture started a long, long, curve toward kinder, and friendlier governance.
Well, I’m glad Ms Kennedy has come upon this (pretty poorly constructed) study.
I think Jordan B. Peterson’s studies and lectures about male and female characteristics in relation to social structuring and myth-making are far more instructive, despite the knee-jerk woke reactions to them.
Nothing about human social behavior is univariate, depending on only one factor like T, which is affected by genetics, age, diet and drug reactions.
Cannabis use has been long understood to reduce T’s effects, and mimic P’s effects, such as growing better boobs. ( It’s fun to think about gender studies done by pot smokers…(
I saw a documentary on cuttle fish many years ago that stated female cuttle fish are drawn more toward males that are smaller and look more feminine. Hmmm.
I then heard about a sociological study that indicated when males reach a certain percentage of a nation’s population, that nation is more likely to go to war or be more aggressive toward other nations.
Is it testosterone or male role modeling that is the culprit for the characteristics mentioned in the article? Is it nature or nurture?
Someone needs to do a study on androgynous men and women. Are we more balanced than those who are extremely feminine or masculine?
It really is about balance. We need a government that has a balance of feminine and masculine energies, a balance of perspectives from different genders.
I always liked this thought experiment
There were two stone age groups of men. One group cooperated, brought down large mammal and were well fed. The other cooperated, brought down large mammals, and then fought until one man had all the women and all the meat. The next season, one tribe died off.
I should note that they have recently found more evidence of prehistoric female hunters, and perhaps for early man, both men and women hunted and gathered.
I will agree that the needs for leadership have changed. As I think, but don’t say to my British nephew, the royal family are a bunch of people descended from the biggest thugs on the block. Fighting Vikings, or each other, was their major skill. I suppose that PR/manipulating people may have been a secondary skill.
We may not need a Charles Martel today to protect us from invaders, but in the heartless realm, I would match Thatcher with Reagan, so I wouldn’t choose based on sex alone. Trump may have no female equal in government, but if we looked, maybe.
As for the testosterone study, I am a bit underwhelmed, but it is interesting to think about. I’m just not certain where it would lead us, if true. I won’t comment more because, as I learned while being taught how to do peer review, I would need to read the entire article along with all of its references.
All of the comments on early man/woman are pretty much uninformed guesswork. We know really very little about them, but probably as much from indigenous tribal cultures as anywhere. Most North American indigenous cultures had great respect for women, and they were involved in decision making for the tribes. In most tribes they had great influence and veto power over most decisions.
I need to read the studies. The conclusion is on pretty slim evidence.Testosterone decreases with age and a host of other variables.Any controls? Please cite the studies!
There is a link to the study in the blog to which I linked.
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