The mismatch effect: When testosterone and status are at odds

Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, United States
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Impact Factor: 5.08). 07/2006; 90(6):999-1013. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.90.6.999
Source: PubMed


Why do some people strive for high status, whereas others actively avoid it? In the present studies, the authors examined the psychological and physiological consequences of a mismatch between baseline testosterone and a person's current level of status. The authors tested this mismatch effect by placing high and low testosterone individuals into high or low status positions using a rigged competition. In Study 1, low testosterone participants reported greater emotional arousal, focused more on their status, and showed worse cognitive functioning in a high status position. High testosterone participants showed this pattern in a low status position. In Study 2, the emotional arousal findings were replicated with heart rate, and the cognitive findings were replicated using a math test. In Study 3, the authors demonstrate that testosterone is a better predictor of behavior than self-report measures of the need for dominance. Discussion focuses on the value of measuring hormones in personality and social psychology.

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    • "Baseline cortisol means (M=0.453 μg/dL, SD=0.364 μg/dL) were similar to those reported in past research (e.g., Mehta and Josephs 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: Prior research found that testosterone change after defeat predicted the decision to compete against the same opponent, but testosterone change after victory was unrelated to competitive behavior. The present research tested whether testosterone responses have differential effects on competitive decision-making depending on whether an individual either barely or decisively won a competition. Seventy-one undergraduate males provided an afternoon saliva sample and then participated in a laboratory cognitive contest in which they were randomly assigned to experience a relatively close or decisive victory against a male confederate. Participants provided a second saliva sample after the competition and then chose whether to: (a) compete against the same opponent, (b) compete against a new opponent, or (c) complete an alternative non-competitive task. Participants also reported how much they enjoyed the competitive task. Testosterone change and the propensity to compete were positively related after a decisive victory, but were negatively related after a close victory. These effects were driven by the decision to compete against a new opponent. In fact, very few participants chose to compete against the same opponent. Testosterone change after a decisive victory was also positively associated with participants’ self-reported enjoyment of the competitive task. Together, these results provide new evidence that a close versus decisive victory moderates the effect of testosterone change on future competitive behavior, an effect that may be linked to changes in reward processing systems.
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    • "Conversely, having low cortisol and low testosterone may work against status attainment. Individuals with low testosterone do not simply lack status motivations; rather, they actively avoid dominance, show a marked cognitive decline when they are in high-status positions, and are prone to submission and appeasement behaviors (e.g., Josephs et al., 2006; van Honk et al., 1999; Zyphur, Narayanan, Koh, & Koh, 2009). As such, executives with low testosterone and low cortisol would be expected to be worst off in terms of status attainment. "
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    ABSTRACT: Are hormone levels associated with the attainment of social status? Although endogenous testosterone predicts status-seeking social behaviors, research suggests that the stress hormone cortisol may inhibit testosterone's effects. Thus, individuals with both high testosterone and low cortisol may be especially likely to occupy high-status positions in social hierarchies while individuals with high testosterone and high cortisol may not. We tested this hypothesis by recruiting a sample of real executives and examining testosterone, cortisol, and a concrete indicator of attained status: the number of subordinates over which the executive has authority. Despite the myriad nonhormonal factors that determine organizational promotion, the executives' endogenous testosterone and cortisol interacted to significantly predict hierarchical position: Testosterone positively predicted executives' number of subordinates, but only among low-cortisol executives. The results imply that reducing cortisol levels via stress reduction may be a critical goal not only because doing so will improve health but also because doing so may enhance leadership potential. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
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    • "The present findings taken together with these prior correlational results are consistent with evidence that testosterone enhances sensitivity to status threats. High basal testosterone predicts aversive reactions to social defeat, including increased negative affect, increased activity in the neuroendocrine stress axis, hyper-attention to status threat cues, and impaired performance on complex cognitive tasks (Newman et al., 2005; Josephs et al., 2006; Mehta et al., 2008; Terburg et al., 2012; Zilioli and Watson, 2013; see also Enter et al., 2014). Testosterone is also related to enhanced amygdala and hypothalamus activity (Hermans et al., 2008; Goetz et al., 2014; Radke et al., 2015), reduced orbitofrontal cortex activity (Mehta and Beer, 2010), and disrupted amygdala-prefrontal cortex connectivity in response to status threats (van Wingen et al., 2010; Volman et al., 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: The present experiment tested the causal impact of testosterone on human competitive decision-making. According to prevailing theories about testosterone's role in social behavior, testosterone should directly boost competitive decisions. But recent correlational evidence suggests that testosterone's behavioral effects may depend on specific aspects of the context and person relevant to social status (win-lose context and trait dominance). We tested the causal influence of testosterone on competitive decisions by combining hormone administration with measures of trait dominance and a newly developed social competition task in which the victory-defeat context was experimentally manipulated, in a sample of 54 female participants. Consistent with the hypothesis that testosterone has context- and person-dependent effects on competitive behavior, testosterone increased competitive decisions after victory only among high-dominant individuals but testosterone decreased competitive decisions after defeat across all participants. These results suggest that testosterone flexibly modulates competitive decision-making depending on prior social experience and dominance motivation in the service of enhancing social status. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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