Testosterone Administration Reduces Lying in Men

From the Plos ONE article:
Testosterone is known to influence brain development and reproductive physiology but also plays an important role in social behavior [4]–[9]. While most studies have investigated a potential association between testosterone and aggressive behavior, two recent studies suggest that testosterone may also increase prosocial behavior or lead to less selfish behavior in certain situations [6], [9]. We therefore investigate a link between testosterone and self-serving lying. A prominent interpretation of the existing evidence on the role of testosterone in social behavior is that the hormone enhances dominance behavior, i.e., behavior intended to gain high social status [6]–[8], [10]–[14], which in humans can be aggressive or prosocial depending on the context. Recent research suggests that pride may have evolved as an affective mechanism for motivating such status seeking behavior [15]. Pride is indirectly linked to status seeking because it is an inward directed emotion that signals high status or ego. It has been speculated that testosterone helps translate such motivation into action, for example, in acts of heroic altruism [16], [17]. Importantly, an effect of testosterone on behavior via pride should also work if behavior cannot be observed by others and an individual’s status in the eyes of the others may therefore not be directly affected. [. . .]

Our main finding is a lower incidence of self-serving lies in the testosterone group. [. . .]

While we can rule out a belief effect we cannot ultimately conclude whether our findings are driven by a direct influence of testosterone on prosocial preferences or via increased status concerns. A potential interpretation for our findings is that testosterone administration affects a concern for self-image [25], or pride [16], i.e., enhances behavior which will make a subject feel proud and leads to the avoidance of behavior considered “cheap” or dishonorable. Subjects in our testosterone group may therefore lie less. This is intriguing because pride could be an affective mechanism underlying a link between testosterone and dominance behavior. An interpretation of our findings in terms of pride is in line with anecdotal and correlational evidence indicating that testosterone plays a positive part in heroic altruism [17]. It is also in line with reports that high testosterone individuals display more disobedient behavior in prison environments where proud individuals may be less willing to follow the strict rules and comply with orders [26], [27]. Finally, a relation between pride, testosterone, and the willingness to engage in “cheap” behavior also fits the observation that the five inmates with the lowest testosterone levels in a sample of 87 female prison inmates were characterized as “sneaky” and “treacherous” by prison staff members [27]. Further experiments manipulating whether lying is an honorable action (e.g., lying for charity) or not (lying for self) are needed to clarify the role of pride in the effect of testosterone on human social behavior. An alternative interpretation of our results, which we cannot rule out, is that testosterone has a direct effect on prosocial behavior, making people more honest per se.

The press release:
The researchers compared the results from the testosterone group to those from the control group. "This showed that the test subjects with the higher testosterone levels had clearly lied less frequently than untreated test subjects," reports the economist Prof. Dr. Armin Falk, who is one of the CENS co-directors with Prof. Weber. "This result clearly contradicts the one-dimensional approach that testosterone results in anti-social behavior." He added that it is likely that the hormone increases pride and the need to develop a positive self-image. "Against this background, a few euros are obviously not a sufficient incentive to jeopardize one's feeling of self-worth," Prof. Falk reckons.


Anonymous said...

The pride interpretation is an interesting one.

Another interpretation might be that testosterone is associated with reduced capability at "mentalising" and role taking (as in the "autism as extreme male brain" theory), and this makes it difficult to lie convincingly.

Another might be that much of lying is fear motivated, rather than self enhancement motivated. If testosterone tends to increase arrogance and confidence, then face saving and conflict avoiding lies would be reduced. I am reminded of certain (albeit fictional) dictatorial type characters who are scrupulously honest, but largely out of their relatively low opinion of others (to pick a rather corny example "So Mr Bond....").

p.n. said...


Read the abstract!

"Subsequently, subjects participated in a simple task, in which their payoff depended on the self-reported outcome of a die-roll."

They don't have to take on a persona to make a simple factual lie.

Also, the subjects didn't lie because of a greater self image... That doesn't sound close to autism.

"Subjects could increase their payoff by lying WITHOUT FEAR of being caught. Our results show that testosterone administration substantially decreases lying in men."

The researchers aren't dumb, and they thought of the things you did.

A better question is, why are people always trying to tie testosterone to antisocial behavior? Whenever a study comes out saying that testosterone might have a pro social effect, people always have to try to refute it...

Anonymous said...


Hey, my view is that, if the cat catches mice... (as a relatively smart Chinaman once said). And the authors themselves link the effect into pride, hardly an unambiguously positive quality.

But thanks for your response, I admit I assumed they hadn't really considered all those angles, although I am not 100% convinced that they completely eliminate my alternative explanations - lying is something people get into the habit of, after all, and learn to do, not entirely dependent on the situation. Having the traits I describe may have led participants to lie less in daily life, and to bring that to an unfamiliar situation.