Testosterone Turns Men Into Bad Decision Makers

Testosterone Turns Men Into Bad Decision Makers

I’m not sure why, but I love this article.

It illustrates two concepts that are scientifically proven but often challenged.

  1. Men are different than women – specifically because of testosterone.
  2. This difference manifests in how men behave.

“Neuroscientists are uncovering evidence suggesting that when men take testosterone, they make more impulsive – and often faulty – decisions.

Researchers have shown for years that men tend to  be more confident  about their intelligence and judgments than women, believing that solutions they’ve generated are better than they actually are. This hubris could be tied to testosterone levels, and new research by Gideon Nave, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, along with Amos Nadler at Western University in Ontario, reveals that high testosterone can make it harder to see the flaws in one’s reasoning.”

When someone tells you there are no differences between the genders, they generally mean they don’t want to concede the possibility that men are “better” in any way.

Which is perfectly understandable.

Yet many are glad to concede when studies show men to be inferior.

This is one of those times. 🙂

Loser guy who thinks he has a shot at the hottest women online? Check.

Male politician who can’t admit he made a crucial policy error? Check.

Testosterone is a bitch that causes men to be, well, men.

Buffoonish man who “mansplains” things to you without all the facts? Check.

Testosterone is a bitch that causes men to be, well, men.

Overconfident. Clueless. Arrogant. Aggressive. These are stereotypes for a reason, people.

Overconfident. Clueless. Arrogant. Aggressive. These are stereotypes for a reason, people.

Concludes the article:

“Confidence can spur a person to action, to take risks. But we should all be more aware of when confidence tips into overconfidence and testosterone supplements could encourage that. Ironically, these supplements might make someone feel bold enough to lead but probably reduce his ability to lead well.

The television ads promise youth and vigor, but they’ve left out the catch: Testosterone enhancement doesn’t just make you feel like an invincible 18-year-old. It makes you think like one, too.”

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

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  1. 1

    This article made me smile.   It’s that classic “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”   Does testosterone make a person more confident?   Depends.   Depends on a lot of things.


    Helen Fisher’s research shows that a preponderance of testosterone in the developing brain stimulates development of a focused, rational personality – both in men and in women.   Yet that is BRAIN testosterone, and in the DEVELOPING brain.   Gonadal testosterone surges during puberty are likely another matter entirely, as is testosterone supplements in aging men.   Dan Ariely, in his book “Predictably Irrational” assessed decision making in male college students who were masturbating to porn versus in their resting state, and found their decision making to be profoundly affected when emotionally erratic.   Now, was that emotional erraticism due solely to testosterone?   Unlikely.   Dopamine also present, as well as other transmitters.   It was the emotionality of the situation that affected the decision making, not just the testosterone.   So in this article was it the testosterone that led to over-confidence, or was it the emotion that resulted from it?   And would the effects have been similar if assessing women whose emotions had just been manipulated by stress or hormones?


    Anyway, just food for thought.

    1. 1.1

      Interesting – do a study on female erraticness dueing hormonal fluctuations and then you’re just “feeding patriarchal stereotypes” or whatever.

      TANSTAAFL. You can’t safety-proof all of society to make men’s tendencies obsolete, which I guess this article auggwats would be a good thing? Well, you can, but do so at your peril.

    2. 1.2
      Evan Marc Katz

      I remember Predictably Irrational VERY well. Shows that, after watching porn, up to 6% of men were open to sexually assaulting women, as opposed to how they’d answer in a normal, unaroused state. Basically says that testosterone/sex makes men lose their minds/morals to some degree, which, at this point in time, should seem self-evident.

      Men certainly have the capacity to overrule their biological urges – we do it all the time – but let’s not pretend that the involuntary biological urges are some sort of patriarchal plot, shall we?

      1. 1.2.1

        I know you probably weren’t directing the patriarchal plot thing against me, but it wasn’t that testosterone/sex made men crazy, necessarily, but that intense emotion did.   My baseline testosterone levels are high, but my decision making is no worse than average (usually much better, actually).   But that’s because testosterone levels relative to a population average aren’t nearly as meaningful as internal fluctuations from personal baseline.   The aging man who slathers testosterone on his skin is spiking his levels compared to baseline.   Very different from natural levels.   A woman who is PMS’ing is also experiencing acute hormonal fluctuations and acting crazy, but it’s not due to her testosterone.   It’s due to fluctuations.


        Having said that, being horny does make people crazy – men and women – and again, Helen Fisher blames this on dopamine, not testosterone (though I’m sure testosterone also plays a role).   The dopamine makes us act like crackheads.


        I’m sure there is something to the notion that testosterone makes people act more confidently.   Certainly more violently.   Likely more prone to anger.   But it’s not a simple system, doesn’t act in isolation, and likely reacts more to fluctuations than to baseline.

      2. 1.2.2
        Mary H

        Interestingly, the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy also cited exposure to hardcore, violent porn at a young age as one of the triggers that shaped his adult views on women (and made him open to killing them in a spree that spanned the country).

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          With a majority of men who view porn, you’d think there’d be a lot more serial killers, huh?

        2. Mary H

          @Evan Well sure, I’m certainly not making a claim that hardcore, violent porn is the only proximate cause in creating serial killers. I’m only raising an eyebrow that it may heighten existing drives that are already problematic (in Bundy’s case, heightening or inspiring in him an outlet for his existing psychopathy and narcissism).

  2. 2

    In today’s economy, too much testosterone can also cause poverty if you are not a pro athlete.   And those guys frequently go broke when they stop playing.

    My theory is that infant and adolescent boys learn how to handle their testosterone (and dopamine) from their fathers.   Boys need an  adult male role model to develop impulse control.

  3. 3
    Tron Swanson

    That’s very interesting. It’s hard for me to relate to it, though, because I’ve always been an extremely insecure person. In the vast majority of areas in my life, my confidence ranges from “zero” to “adequate at best”. There are a few areas where I’m actually skilled, and I have above-average confidence when it comes to them…but that isn’t solely based on how I feel. It’s also based on input from others and tangible success.

  4. 4

    I now, too, love this article!   I’ve witnessed what a man is like on testosterone gel.   My ex-husband (married to him for 10 years) coated his abdomen area with testosterone gel during the last 3 years of our marriage because his testosterone level was very low.   He was 32 years when he began taking it.   He did not consult me before taking it.   Unfortunately, it impacted me the most in a negative way.   His decision making was irrational.   He became more of a risk-taker with his job (e.g.   He quit his job and started a new career, which failed), was a risk-taker with our money (e.g.   Losing $18k in the stock market), became more of a dare-devil (e.g.   Driving cars and boats after drinking alcohol,   and was doing things behind my back (e.g.   Suing the Catholic Church behind my back for being sexual assaulted by a priest when he was a pre-teen, which he told me about the assaults 6 months before we divorced.).

    To sum it up, testosterone gel turned my ex-husband into a 16 year boy.   I could no longer tolerate his behavior. He wouldn’t stop taking it.   Mixed with his anti-depressant, I grew to love him less and less.   I had no choice but to opt out of our marriage.   I’m just not a fan of testosterone gel.   Maybe, other people have had a positive experience with it?

  5. 5

    This reminds me of my favorite piece from David Wong over at the venerable “Cracked”.   It’s not the most sophisticated cultural commentary I’ve ever seen but it includes some killer insights into the way men perceive and respond to women.   However towards the end it kind of veers off into a screed about how men will do anything – build skyscrapers, split the atom etc – to impress women.   I don’t really buy that because, as is often discussed on this blog, the world is full of men who are unreliable, commitment-phobic, workaholics who always choose their jobs over their relationships etc.   Yes, there are many good men as well but a surprising number of men don’t put any real thought or effort into being good partners.   Well, a “surprising number” if you go along with the notion that men will do anything for women.

    1. 5.1

      I think the problem is that many men have odd ideas about what should impress women.   The men who split atoms and build skyscrapers believe one thing.   The workaholics who never come home but eek out a living for their family believe another. And the obnoxious men who holler at women on the street or cold-approach women at the supermarket believe another.   And even when presented with evidence that any given woman is unimpressed, they just believe something is wrong with that woman, not their approach.   Unfortunately, many men don’t see being a good partner the same way many women do, and believe that women should be impressed with them the way they are.   And unfortunately this is often reinforced by women themselves rewarding bad behavior over good.

      1. 5.1.1

        Jeremy it’s true that women sometimes do reward bad behavior but it tends to be certain kinds of bad behavior.   Sequencing the human genome is far from a “bad” behavior but most women aren’t terribly impressed by it.   I wish more women were interested in scientific progress but that’s another story.   Still, the takeaway from your comment, for me at least, is that many men just do what they want and assume, without asking the women in their lives about it or putting much thought into the subject, that women want what they want.   And as we’ve seen, here and elsewhere, that these many such men are quite resistant to doing things that actually make women happy when even when it is spelled out to them.   Not saying that women on the whole are less contradictory.   It really is funny how few people put two and two together and try to meet the opposite sex where they are.

  6. 6

    And yet, I’ve known some amazing men. My father was one. He was a highly disciplined professional, very well known in his field. He was ethical, honest and kind, a member of the greatest generation. He served during World War 2. He provided for his family and was faithful to his wife.

    It seems to me that when men have a belief in a calling, in a higher idea, that they can make incredible sacrifices and can become the kind of men that women look up to and sigh after. But that takes a type of discipline and self-sacrifice that some men don’t aspire to these days.

    1. 6.1
      Tron Swanson

      Discipline and self-sacrifice have nothing to do with a belief in a calling or a higher idea, though. If you don’t have something to believe in, or have a stake in the way things are, you won’t put much effort in. You can trust me on that one.

      Your father lived in a different era. Women had fewer options and less freedom, back then, so there wasn’t as much competition for them. And that was a time when a high school grad could get a factory job that supported a large family. My grandfathers lived in that era, and they supported their families (and bought houses and new cars) on blue-collar wages. I also know for a fact that they didn’t have to try all that hard to find wives; they met them at social events and got married quickly. Again, this was an era that was unfair for women: the men were usually the bosses, as I’m sure you’d agree. And they didn’t have to worry about divorce.

      So, you’re basically saying, “Hey, remember when it was easier for men to make money, men could lock down young, attractive women without much of an issue, men were in charge of relationships, and men didn’t have to worry about relationships destroying them legally or financially? Men sure sacrificed a lot for that kind of life, back then! I wonder why they don’t seem as invested now?”

      Point 1: Though it goes against my self-interest, I’m not nostalgic for those days, and you shouldn’t be, either. Point 2: I am not going to work for, let alone fight for, the “honor” of…competing for your attention, begging to be one of your options, killing myself to impress you, etc.

      This is a radical idea, but, try looking at it from a man’s POV. How is it in my self-interest to do any of the things you think I should? You can talk about how it’d benefit women, or how it’d benefit society, but how would it benefit me? From my angle, it looks risky and pointless.

      1. 6.1.1


        I think it’s a good idea for both men and women to be self-sacrificing, have discipline, and have high ideals. This idea is supported by all major religions and many philosophies.

        If you live your life always trying to see what you get out of it, you’ll be miserable. If you don’t think it’s in your best interest to be sexually faithful to one woman, to support children, and to work hard, then don’t.

        Life has no guarantees. I can tell you’re young because you haven’t really learned this. Yes, you can work hard, sacrifice, and maybe lose everything. So what? It’s still a better life than if you just look out for yourself.

        And I absolutely don’t agree that it’s harder to get a wife these days. Nearly every woman is looking for a long-term relationship and marriage.





        1. Tron Swanson

          I’m not really a fan of this “selective selflessness” that I see some women pushing. You want me to be selfless, but what about your female friends who are thinking about getting divorced, and taking the guy to the cleaners, just because they’re bored? For that matter, how “sacrificial” should women be when it comes time to pay for the date?

          I’m 38, and I definitely feel young.

          Yes, the vast majority of women are looking for marriage and children, but there’s an incredible amount of competition for them, and they can afford to be demanding. Their (realistic or not) demands will be encouraged by their girlfriends and their “platonic” guy friends (who will affirm anything they say because they want to sleep with them). And for someone like me, who didn’t want to get married or have kids, well, I can’t even tell you what an uphill climb it was. Thank god I gave up when I did.

        2. Lucy

          Hey Tron,

          I’m trying to reply to your second comment, but I don’t see a “reply” button. So I’ll leave it here.

          First of all, a guy can take a woman to the cleaners if she makes more than him and he was the primary care giver to the children.

          I’m glad you’re clear on your intentions not to get married and have children. I hope you find someone who has similar goals. No judgement here that you don’t want that. It sure is a lot of work. (I am divorced and actually adopted two kids by myself. I really value close relationships.)

          You sound a little bit suspicious and turned off of relationships in general! I don’t blame you. People can really hurt you. But I’ve found, not to keep banging the nail in, that if you work hard, sacrifice, and are selfless, that you can make it through life and that you’re a lot tougher than you think. And the good times aren’t necessarily over either.

          I would find life pretty meaningless without my children. They have turned into the most remarkable teenagers and I feel I’ve really accomplished something in life. My life has meaning. It’s also out of control, harder, and occasionally more depressing than I would like. But I manage. And I don’t regret my choices.

          We all have to trust we know what we want.


  7. 7
    Mary H

    Good article. I also read a book recently (“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking”) that suggested something similar about testosterone, not just men. The book suggested that extroverts and adrenaline junkies who tend to minimize potential risks when making decisions were in many ways responsible for the decisions made in Wall Street firms that brought about the financial crisis.

  8. 8
    Yet Another Guy

    Before this thread goes off on a testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is evil tangent, I have been on TRT since the age of 52.   I went through andropause (a.k.a. late-onset hypogonadism, and became hypogonadal, which is defined as a total testosterone level < 300 ng/dl.   TRT was a life saver. Loss of libido was the least of my worries. I would hot flash and felt like a whipped dog.   If not abused, TRT gets a man back into the correct range for his age (in my case, 450 to 500 ng/dl).   Not treating hypogonadism (a.k.a. Low-T)   has serious health ramifications.   Low-T can result in a testosterone/estradiol (E2) imbalance, which, in turn, can result in the accumulation of visceral fat.   Visceral fat is on the inside of the abdominal wall, and it predisposes a man to type 2 diabetes.   The infamous beer belly is caused by visceral fat.   TRT also allows a man to stop losing muscle.   A man can put on muscle with TRT, but he has to earn it by working out.

  9. 9

    This is an interesting, though I believe slightly misleading, blog post. The article states that the study indicates that hubris, overconfidence, etc, are associated with super physiological doses of testosterone-men taking prescription T when they already have normal levels. This has been known for years by those studying body builders. In the 1980s or early 90s there was a case in California where a bodybuilder, who was abusing steroids, developed what was known in that community as a the ‘superman complex:’ he adopted the belief that he was invincible because of his increased strength levels and then tried to stop car as it was going 60 miles an hour and was immediately killed.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but the study does not seem to show that these negative traits are associated with normal t levels (though of course heightened sex drive, higher levels of aggression in relation to women etc, certainly are).

      1. 9.1.1

        I agree with you, but there are other variables that go into shaping rapists and murderers (we know that testosterone is neither a necessary or sufficient condition to produce rape for example), and I was referring solely to the claims about over confidence, hubris, etc, which is why I added that qualifier about sexual aggression.

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