According to a new article published at The Guardian, testosterone does affect human cognition and decision-making. The article, titled, Now we men can blame our hormones: testosterone is trouble, by Phil Daoust, is yet more media sensationalism against testosterone. Daoust’s article is full of assumptions and conclusions that do not follow from an article he cites on testosterone and cognitive reflection and decision making.
The cited article, Single dose testosterone administration impairs cognitive reflection in men, states that endogenous testosterone (testosterone produced in the body) is correlated with physical aggression. However, I’ve shown that this is not true. They conclude overall the exogenous testosterone is related to an increase in irrational thinking and decision-making. Nothing wrong with concluding that from the data. However, Daoust’s interpretation and conclusions he draws from this study are wrong, mostly due to the same old tales and misconceptions about testosterone.
This is the largest study of the effect of exogenous testosterone and decision-making and cognition. The authors show that men administered a gel that was rubbed into the upper body that is used for TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) showed “incorrect intuitive answers were more common, and correct answers were less common in the T group, for each of the three CRT questions analyzed separately” (Nave et al, 2017: 8). However, what The Guardian article does not state is that this relationship could be mediated by more than testosterone, such as motivation and arithmetic skills.
Nevertheless, those who rubbed themselves with the testosterone gel answered 20 percent fewer questions correctly. This was attributed to the fact that they were more likely to be anxious and not think about the answer. One of the authors also states that either testosterone inhibits the action of mentally checking your work or it increases the intuitive feeling that you’re definitely right (since those who rubbed themselves with T gel gave more intuitive answers, implying that the testosterone made them go to their first thought in their head). I have no problems with the paper—other than the fact that gel has an inconsistent absorption rate and has high rates of aromatization. The study has a good design and I hope it gets explored more. I do have a problem with Dauost’s interpretation of it, however.
A host of studies have already shown a correlation between elevated testosterone levels and aggression – and now they’re being linked to dumb overconfidence.
The ‘host of studies‘ that ‘have already shown a correlation between elevated testosterone levels and aggression‘ don’t say what you think they do. This is another case of the testosterone sensationalism of the media—talking about a hormone they don’t really know anything about.
That won’t help with the marketing – though it may explain Donald Trump and his half-cocked willy-waggling. Perhaps it’s not the president’s brain that’s running things, but the Leydig cells in his testicles.
Nice shot. This isn’t how it works, though. You can’t generalize a study done on college-aged males to a 71-year-old man.
Women aren’t entirely off the hook – their bodies also produce testosterone, though in smaller quantities, and the Caltech study notes that “it remains to be tested whether the effect is generalisable to females” – but for now at least they now have another way to fight the scourge of mansplaining: “You’re talking out of your nuts.”
Another paragraph showing no understanding, even bringing up the term ‘mansplaining’—whatever that means. This article is, clearly, demonizing high T men, and is a great example of the media bias on testosterone studies that I have brought up in the past.
Better still, with the evils of testosterone firmly established, the world may learn to appreciate older men. Around the age of 30, no longer “young, dumb and full of cum”, we typically find our testosterone levels declining, so that with every day that passes we become less aggressive, more rational and generally nicer.
“The evils of testosterone firmly established“, nice job at hiding your bias. Yes the cited article (Nave et al 2017) does bring up how testosterone is linked to aggression. But, for the millionth time, the correlation between testosterone and aggressive behavior is only .08 (Archer, Graham-Kevan, and Davies, 2005).
Even then, most of the reduction of this ‘evil hormone’ is due to lifestyle changes. It just so happens that around the ages 25-30—when most men notice a decrease in testosterone levels—that men begin to change their lifestyle habits, which involve marriage which decreases testosterone levels (Gray et al, 2002; Burnham et al, 2003; Gray, 2011; Pollet, Cobey, and van der Meij, 2013; Farrelly et al, 2015; Holmboe et al, 2017), having children (Gray et al, 2002; Gray et al, 2006; Gettler et al, 2011) to obesity (Palmer et al, 2012; Mazur et al, 2013; Fui, Dupuis, and Grossman, 2014; Jayaraman, Lent-Schochet, and Pike, 2014; Saxbe et al, 2017) smoking is not clearly related to testosterone (Zhao et al, 2016), and high-carb diets decrease testosterone (Silva, 2014).
So the so-called age-related decline in testosterone is not really age-related at all—it has to do with environmental and social factors which then decreases testosterone (Shi et al, 2013). Why should a man be ‘happy’ that his testosterone levels are decreasing due—largely—to his lifestyle? Low testosterone is related to cardiovascular risk (Maggio and Basaria, 2009), insulin sensitivity (Pitteloud et al, 2005; Grossman et al, 2008), metabolic syndrome (Salam, Kshetrimayum, and Keisam, 2012; Tsuijimora et al, 2013), heart attack (Daka et al, 2015), elevated risk of dementia in older men (Carcaillon et al, 2014), muscle loss (Yuki et al, 2013), and stroke and ischemic attack (Yeap et al, 2009).
So it seems that, contrary to Phil Daoust’s (the author of The Guardian article on testosterone) claims that low testosterone is associated with less aggressive behavior, more rationality and being nicer, in general, are wrong. Low testosterone is associated with numerous maladies, and the Daoust is trying to make low testosterone out to be ‘a good thing’, while demonizing men with higher levels of testosterone with cherry-picked studies and not large meta-analyses like I have cited that show that testosterone has an extremely low correlation with aggressive behavior.
As I have covered in the past, testosterone levels in the West are declining, along with semen count and quality. These things are due, largely in part, to social and environmental factors such as obesity, low activity, and an overall change in lifestyle. One (albeit anecdotal) reason I could conjure up has to do with dominance. Testosterone is the dominance hormone and so if testosterone levels are declining, then that means men must not be showing dominance as much. I would place part of the blame here on feminism and articles like the one reviewed here as part of the problem. So contra the author’s assertion, lower levels of testosterone into old age are not good, since that signifies a change in lifestyle—many of which are in the control of the male in question (I, of course, would not advise anyone to not have children or get married).
Nave et al (2017) lead the way for further research into this phenomenon. If higher doses of exogenous testosterone do indeed inhibit cognitive reflection, then, as the authors note, “The possibility that this widely prescribed treatment has unknown deleterious influences on specific aspects of decision-making should be investigated further and taken into account by users, physicians, and policy makers” (Nave et al, 2017: 11). This is perhaps one of the most important sentences in the whole article. This is about the application of testosterone-infused gel and decision-making. They’re talking about the implications of administering the gel to men and how it affects decision-making and cognitive reflection. This study is NOT generalizable for 1) endogenous testosterone and 2) non-college students. If the author understood the paper and science, he wouldn’t make those assumptions about Trump’s Leydig cells in his testicles “running the show”.
Because of the testosterone fear, good studies like Nave at al (2017) get used for an agenda by people who don’t understand the hormone. People the the Right and Left both have horrible misconceptions about the hormone, and some cannot interpret studies correctly and draw the correct conclusions from them. Testosterone—endogenous or exogenous—does not cause aggression (Batrinos, 2012). This is an established fact. The testosterone decrease between the ages of 25-30 is avoidable if you don’t change to bad habits that decrease testosterone. All in all, the testosterone scare is ridiculous. People are scared of it because they don’t understand it.
Daoust didn’t understand the article he cited and drew false conclusions from his misinterpretations. I would be interested to see how men would fare on a cognitive reflection test after, say, their favorite team scored during a game, and not after being given supraphysiological doses of testosterone gel. Drawing conclusions like Daoust did, however, is wrong and will mislead numerous more people under the guise of science.