Looking for a scientific reason why it seems like men are quick to assume they're right all the time? Well, new research suggests a link between higher levels of testosterone and being less likely to question impulses. While previous studies have linked testosterone to aggression and disorders associated with poor impulse control, the current study, which comes from researchers at CalTech, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Western University in Canada, and ZRT Laboratory, set out to test the hypothesis that “higher levels of testosterone increase the tendency in men to rely on their intuitive judgments and reduce cognitive reflection.” Basically, is snap judgement somehow a biological thing? And, as it turns out, it might be.
Researchers used a test group of 243 randomly selected men, making it one of the largest of this type of test ever conducted on this subject. Participants were randomly selected to receive either a testosterone gel or placebo gel. Then, researchers administered a cognitive reflection test, asking the participants questions like, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” that are meant to test snap judgement. Subjects were given no time limit to answer the questions. They were also given $1 for every correct answer and an additional $2 if they answered all the questions correctly.
Their findings? The group of participants who received the testosterone gel scored significantly lower than the group that received the placebo gel, answering an average of 20 percent fewer questions correctly. Per their study, researchers found participants who received testosterone gel "gave incorrect answers more quickly, and correct answers more slowly than the placebo group." These results suggest a link between heightened levels of testosterone and confidence in impulsive decision-making.
Previous studies have suggested links between testosterone and risk tolerance and testosterone and aggression, but didn’t find any significant link between testosterone and impulsivity, as this new study suggests. Authors of this study believe their findings regarding impulsivity are specifically related to confidence. Colin Camerer, one of this new study’s researchers, told CalTech, "We think it works through confidence enhancement. If you're more confident, you'll feel like you're right and will not have enough self-doubt to correct mistakes.”
Does this mean everyone with more testosterone is more confidently impulsive? Can it explain why dudes at trivia insist they know the answer to something even when they’re wrong? Not exactly. Like all correlative studies, this new research suggests a link between testosterone and impulsivity, not a cause/effect relationship. Remember: Correlation is not causation.
While some cisgender men have a naturally heightened level of testosterone than some women, the same is not true for everyone of all genders. At the very least, this study gives us another reason to think twice before reacting. And a new math riddle to use at your next dinner party. (BTW, the ball costs five cents).