New Research Explores How Testosterone Influences Your Popular or Unpopular Opinions

Written by Professor Anna Gray, Updated on December 29th, 2021
Reading Time: 4 minutes

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 certain 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 just more bold and brash than others – but another factor may be at play here: 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 -- in order 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 who had better insight on something and who knew something that everyone else didn’t, can result in a huge positive payoff, especially in a survival situation. In other situations, holding a minority position can carry a lot of 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 certain individuals hold minority positions even though it comes with a social risk. Specifically, they have been studying the role of testosterone (“social hormone”) in someone taking a position on certain 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, as compared to those with low, or even average, levels of testosterone.

The results came back as expected. The subjects with high basal testosterone were more likely to adopt the 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.

If the individuals with high BT simply disregarded the social aspects of the decision, they should have been no more or less inclined to agree with majority position than the low BT individuals. However, there was a clear association 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, being responsible for fertility, sex drive and masculine traits. Testosterone also impacts our psychology. It’s amazing 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 is the catalyst for social change.

More research is definitely needed, but this research gives us something to ponder. Future researchers, as noted by the study authors, should directly measure risk perception and/or manipulate the levels of testosterone in their studies. It will be exciting to read the findings of these future studies!



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