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GroupThink and Testosterone

GroupThink and Testosterone February 6, 2012

From The Wellcome Trust:

OK, this seems sound to me, but what are we going to do? Inject testosterone or oxytocin, depending on need?

Problem solving in groups can provide benefits over individual decisions as we are able to share our information and expertise. However, there is a tension between cooperation and self-orientated behaviour: although groups might benefit from a collective intelligence, collaborating too closely can lead to an uncritical groupthink, ending in decisions that are bad for all.

Attempts to understand the biological mechanisms behind group decision making have tended to focus on the factors that promote cooperation, and research has shown that people given a boost of the hormone oxytocin tend to be cooperative. Now, in a study published today in the journal ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society B’, researchers have shown that the hormone testosterone has the opposite effect – it makes people act less cooperatively and more egocentrically….

Testosterone is implicated in a variety of social behaviours. For example, in chimpanzees, levels of testosterone rise ahead of a confrontation or a fight. In female prisoners, studies have found that higher levels of testosterone correlate with increased antisocial behaviour and higher aggression. Researchers believe that such findings reflect a more general role for testosterone in increasing the motivation to dominate others and increase egocentricity.

Understanding the brain is one of the strategic aims of the Wellcome Trust, which funded this study. Commenting on the findings, Dr John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Trust, said: “Cooperating with others has obvious advantages for sharing skills and experience, but we know it doesn’t always work, particularly if one alpha male or alpha female dominates the decision making. This result helps us understand at a hormonal level the factors that can disrupt our attempts to work together.”

 

 


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