Not giving up: Testosterone promotes persistence against a stronger opponent

Hana Hollá Kutliková, Shawn Geniole, Christoph Eisenegger, Claus Lamm, Gerhard Jocham, Bettina Studer

Recent research suggests that when we lack a sense of control, we are prone to motivational failures and early quitting in competitions. Testosterone, on the other hand, is thought to boost competitiveness. Here we investigate the interaction between these factors, testing the testosterone’s potential to enhance persistence in a competition against a stronger opponent, depending on experimentally manipulated perceived control. Healthy participants were administered a single dose of testosterone or placebo. They first underwent a task designed to either induce low or high perceived control and then entered a costly competition against a progressively stronger opponent that they could quit at any time. In the placebo group, men with low perceived control quitted twice as early as those with high perceived control. Testosterone countered this effect, making individuals with low control persist in the competition for as long as those with high perceived control, and did so also despite raising participants’ explicit awareness of the opponents’ advantage. This psychoendocrinological effect was not modulated by basal cortisol levels, CAG repeat polymorphism of the androgen receptor gene, or trait dominance. Our results provide the first causal evidence that testosterone promotes competitive persistence in humans and demonstrate that this effect depends on the psychological state elicited prior to the competition, broadening our understanding of the complex relationships between testosterone and social behaviors.

Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology, Vienna Cognitive Science Hub
External organisation(s)
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS), University of the Fraser Valley, Mauritius Hospital Meerbusch
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
301407 Neurophysiology, 501014 Neuropsychology
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