Want To Make Money in the Stock Market? Take Testosterone!

My high school science textbook taught me that aggressive sperm “penetrate” those docile eggs that float around in unassuming uteruses. Larry Summers told me that women lack a natural aptitude for the sciences. Now, Jack van Honk, a psychologist of Utrecht University in the Netherlands would have me believe that a healthy dose of testosterone (the “smart hormone” as the BBC called it) could make some women less gullible: “[I]n humans the hormone seems to motivate for rational decision-making, social scrutiny and cleverness, the apparent tools for success in a modern society,” van Honk and colleagues explain.

In the study, a group of 24 women volunteers were given a single 0.5 mg dose of testosterone and were then asked to rate the “trustworthiness” of photographs of strangers from “very untrustworthy” to “neutral” to “very trustworthy.” The testosterone had the strongest effect on “high-trusting” women (the “most socially naïve”) who were significantly less likely to trust unfamiliar individuals after administration of the hormone. The authors wrote:

We have repeatedly shown that testosterone administration in females results in more male-typical social behavior. Testosterone has been associated with social dominance and success in competition, and may restrain interpersonal trust to ensure social scrutiny for status and economic concerns. Indeed, testosterone levels in humans correlate positively with financial gain on the stock market and, as such, appear predictive of economic shrewdness.

On the other hand, the researchers note, previous studies have shown that high levels of the female reproductive hormone oxytocin tend to induce trust: “Following oxytocin administration, subjects continue to allocate substantial amounts of funds to untrustworthy others, despite being told that their opponents had repeatedly violated their trust.”

The problem with this kind of study, of course, is that it falls into the correlation-equals-causality fallacy: It declines to examine the social reasons for its subjects’ supposed naiveté and leaves the impression that social and economic achievement is biologically determined. The study relies on the a priori assumption that purported “masculine” traits and behaviors–financial acumen, shrewdness, ability to compete for scarce resources–are and should be valued over “feminine” qualities–emotional openness, naiveté, vulnerability–which are pathologized by the study.

In her 1995 book Im/partial Science, feminist scholar and microbiologist Bonnie Spanier shed light on the ways in which gender stereotypes influence science. Of the sexualized sperm, which was conflated with “masculine” qualities like aggression and activity, she wrote:

Superimposing stereotypes of the active male and the passive female distort our understanding of the process of fertilization … [The] imposition of such ideology, unintentional though it may be, simply takes culturally pervasive but highly questionable beliefs in inherent differences between men and women and embeds them at the molecular and cellular levels of our knowledge about ‘nature.’ In doing so, the power of science in general … reinforces sexist biological determinist beliefs, despite any good intentions the scientists may have.

Science that claims a complete understanding of human behavior is limiting because it can function to reproduce gender biases while claiming ideological neutrality. So maybe it’s time to think beyond the savvy testicles and consider other possible reasons why oxycotin-ridden women are soft and loving, or why those “go-getter” men tend to dominate Wall Street.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tukatuka/3760426166/ CC BY 2.0


  1. Ugh I hate the way evolutionary biologists do a study and then use gender stereotypes to make wild leaps in their conclusions. Testosterone-induced suspicion lends an evolutionary advantage? It’s just as easy to make the opposite argument, that oxytocin-induced cooperation lends an advantage — and hey, people have made that argument! http://citizen-40.tressugar.com/Do-Kinder-People-Have-Evolutionary-Advantage-7624655

    I read somewhere recently a more-fleshed-out theory that oxytocin was THE key to human evolution. It was necessary to spur women to assist each other with childbirth as larger human head sizes made delivery increasingly dangerous, and this in turn led to the sociability and working-together ability that make humans human. It’s killing me that I can’t think of the source to give proper feminist intellectual credit — help me out if you know it!

  2. yoteech says:

    @J.Stites: Go back and think a while about recent readings…google studies, recall other surrounding circumstances that will help you to remember and read, read, read to find your source(s) for the information about oxytocin and human evolution…please. Documentation is helpful to build a case that contradicts the stupidity of biased articles and so-called studies.

  3. Why do I always hear about how great and dominant male traits are and how awful and passive female traits are? I mean, it really is all about the adjectives we pick and how we spin it. You hear phrases like “social dominance and success in competition” and think AWESOME! Yet, when I hear this I hear aggressive, violent, unfeeling jerk. Considering men commit nearly 90% of all the violent crimes in our country, I hardly attribute promoting aggressive dominance in them as a good thing. While I hate how women are stereotyped, men get a crumby deal, too. Maybe if they didn’t feel like they had to keep up their manly dominance all the time they wouldn’t be raping people and beating the crap out of their wives. Which brings me to the wimpy words to describe female characteristics. Why isn’t it good to have feelings, be sensitive, open and trusting? Explain to me why generalized female traits are bad things. I think it takes a lot more guts to be an emotional and caring person. Really, though, I just want to stop the whole polarizing arguments of male/female altogether because it sucks to be generalized. Especially when we do so to make one side lose. I know a lot of sensitive guys and aggressive women and vice versa. I feel like these generalizations ignore how we are socialized as male and female. We are taught to be women and men. We haven’t really grown up with a clean slate to choose our own preferences. I mean, I hate WE TV and Lifetime, yet I’m a woman, so what’s wrong with me? I’d rather watch sports. I’d rather compete in sports. But, because I’m a woman I’m not successful in competition, right? Ridiculous. When are we ever just going to let people be themselves regardless of what’s in their pants.

  4. “When are we ever just going to let people be themselves regardless of what’s in their pants?” I’m with you on that one, Nicole. I hate generalizations of women and men. For example, I hate the articles in those so-called “women’s” magazines that purport to tell us the differences between men and women, like women enjoy shopping (especially for shoes with mile-high heels and expensive purses) like crazy and men like sports, babes, cars, and ultra-violent action flicks. I especially hate the articles that tell women what men like and how to change themselves in order to get (and keep) them. I put quotation marks around the word “women’s” because while these magazines are targeted toward women, they are actually “man-friendly”–friendly toward men who still think they should rule, avoid any responsibility for their actions (especially in relationships), and refuse to grow up and hostile toward women who have enough dignity and self-respect to be themselves and not settle for less in life. Cosmopolitan magazine is a perfect example of this anti-woman attitude, the reason I dumped my subscription to it in the first place. I also hate Spike TV because I know the reason it was created–women’s networks were “dominating” prime-time television, so a men’s network was needed to “balance” things out and give men an “outlet” to express their behavior and desires. Message: the presence of women and their behavior and desires is emasculating men and ultimately bad for society, so men need a woman-free place to just be “themselves.” In other words, men still need to rule–women not necessary.


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