Testosterone levels in both men and women may actually be a catalyst for social change.
Revolutionary social changes tend to start with an individual, or several individuals, who hold strong, innovative, and usually unpopular opinions.
Why do specific individuals seem to forge their own paths and choose to hold controversial views, despite the backlash and/or dissuasion from others?
You might think it’s because of genetics – some people are bolder and brash than others – but another factor is the hormone testosterone.
Some Like to “Go With the Flow,” While Some Have Other Plans
According to most psychologists, humans tend to “go with the flow” most often -- to avoid conflicts and fights, which can be detrimental to survival if you look at it from a biological point of view.
These are the people who hold a majority position. People who hold minority positions are the ones who are at odds with the majority and tend to be catalysts for social change, but not always. However, holding a minority position can lead to unpopularity and thus entails higher social risk.
It is usually less risky to go with the flow. On the other side of the coin, being the person with better insight on something and who knew something that everyone else didn’t can result in a vast positive payoff, especially in a survival situation.
In other situations, holding a minority position can have many negatives. You stand out more, and there can be backlash and arguments. The majority will not want to hear what you have to say since the numbers are not on your side.
Why Do Some Individuals Hold Minority Positions, Given the Social Risk?
Researchers from the University of Hildesheim in Germany wanted to understand this psychological phenomenon more closely to see why particular individuals hold minority positions even though it comes with social risk.
Specifically, they have been studying the role of testosterone (“social hormone”) in someone taking a position on specific topics. The study was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The German study was conducted on 250 adults, with 160 women and 90 men. The subjects were shown a persuasive message and then told that a certain percentage of people favored this side or that. For example, they were told about the benefits of a local construction project and that either 15 or 18 percent of the local population favored the construction.
Basal Testosterone Levels Associated With Risk-Taking and Immunity to Social Influences
The researchers hypothesized that basal testosterone (BT) would help to predict whether an individual would adopt a minority position or not.
Specifically, it was expected that high levels of testosterone would be seen in the individuals who adopted minority positions compared to those with low or even average testosterone levels.
The results came back as expected. The subjects with high basal testosterone were more likely to adopt minority positions than ones with low BT. In addition, the individuals with high BT also voiced their recognition of the risks associated with choosing a minority position and still held that position, regardless.
Suppose the individuals with high BT simply disregarded the social aspects of the decision. In that case, they should have been no more or less inclined to agree with the majority position than the low BT individuals.
However, a clear association existed between high BT and being more likely to choose a minority position. Those with low BT were more likely to choose the majority position.
Testosterone Hormone is Responsible for More Than We Thought
It appears that testosterone is more than just a sex hormone is responsible for fertility, sex drive and masculine traits. Testosterone also impacts our psychology.
It’s incredible to think that a microscopic hormone could be behind major social upheavals, such as revolutions or political, financial, or scientific changes in our world. Holding a minority position and upsetting the status quo catalyzes social change.
More research is definitely needed, but this research gives us something to ponder. As noted by the study authors, future researchers should directly measure risk perception and/or manipulate testosterone levels in their studies. It will be exciting to read the findings of these future studies!
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