naturalizing the social, and vice versa

Via Cosma Shalizi, reports of a very interesting piece of work: Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour, C. Eisenegger, M. Naef, R. Snozzi, M. Heinrichs & E. Fehr, Nature 463, 356-359 (21 January 2010). The abstract:

Both biosociological and psychological models, as well as animal research, suggest that testosterone has a key role in social interactions1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Evidence from animal studies in rodents shows that testosterone causes aggressive behaviour towards conspecifics7. Folk wisdom generalizes and adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic, or even aggressive human behaviours. However, many researchers have questioned this folk hypothesis1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, arguing that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behaviours in challenging social interactions, but causal evidence that discriminates between these views is sparse. Here we show that the sublingual administration of a single dose of testosterone in women causes a substantial increase in fair bargaining behaviour, thereby reducing bargaining conflicts and increasing the efficiency of social interactions. However, subjects who believed that they received testosterone—regardless of whether they actually received it or not—behaved much more unfairly than those who believed that they were treated with placebo. Thus, the folk hypothesis seems to generate a strong negative association between subjects’ beliefs and the fairness of their offers, even though testosterone administration actually causes a substantial increase in the frequency of fair bargaining offers in our experiment.

Written by Kieran

January 21, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Posted in uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Interesting. Sort of related, on NPR they talked about how some food/aid distribution points in Haiti are only allowing women.



    January 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

  2. Fascinating post, but I wonder what would happen if the experiment involved administering testosterone to men.



    January 22, 2010 at 1:28 am

  3. Well there has been some skepticism about what this result proves.

    I recommend the Neuroskeptic’s take


    Dan in Euroland

    January 22, 2010 at 3:54 am

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