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Testosterone and Teams

When people with high testosterone levels aren’t in leadership positions, “they can find it stressful and uncomfortable when denied the status that they crave.”  A bit more surprising is that the reverse is true as well, that “people low in testosterone find it uncomfortable to be placed in positions of authority.” The main finding from the research is that when groups suffer from “mismatch” between status and testosterone levels (where those with high testosterone levels are placed at the bottom of the pecking order, and those with low levels are placed at the top), the group has less confidence in its abilities get things done.

From the BPS summary:

…assigned 92 groups of between 4 and 7 undergrads to an on-going task that involved meeting twice a week for 12 weeks, and included creating a professional management-training video. Six weeks into the project the researches measured the participants’ testosterone levels via saliva samples. They also asked all members in each group to vote on each others’ status. Then six weeks after that, at the end of the project, the researchers measured each group’s collective efficacy by summing members’ confidence in their group’s ability to succeed.

The key finding was that groups made up of members whose status was out of synch with their testosterone level tended to have the lowest collective efficacy. The researchers think that testosterone-status mismatch within a group probably has a detrimental effect on that group’s collective confidence. However, another possibility, which they acknowledge, is that a lack of group confidence leads to a mismatch between testosterone levels and status among group members.

The implication is fairly horrifying — perhaps companies will start using testosterone levels to make decisions about whether or not to put people in leadership positions.  Even if it is “evidence-based” (although these results are preliminary), the thought makes me a bit sick.

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