Psychology: Men with high testosterone levels are less GENEROUS, study finds 

Men with high testosterone levels are less GENEROUS and are more likely to display selfish behaviours, study finds

  • Psychologists measured men’s brain activity as they chose from two options
  • One option was purely selfish, while the other involved a benefit to another
  • They found men given testosterone before the test tended to be more selfish 
  • Testosterone was found to dampen activity in the temporoparietal junction
  • This is a region of the brain involved in regarding the welfare of other people

Having high levels of the hormone testosterone can make men less generous and more likely to exhibit selfish behaviours, a study has concluded. 

Psychologists from China and Switzerland measured the brain activity of men while they completed a task involving deciding between generous and selfish options. 

The team found that men who had been given additional testosterone three hours before completing the task tended to select the more selfish options.

Furthermore, the testosterone was found to dampen activity in a region of the brain which is known to be involved in the consideration of other people’s welfare.

Having high levels of the hormone testosterone can make men less generous and more likely to exhibit selfish behaviours, a study has concluded. Pictured: a greedy man hoards popcorn

The study was undertaken by psychologist Jianxin Oua of China’s Shenzhen University and colleagues.

‘Testosterone is associated with aggressive behaviour in both animals and humans,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.

‘Here, we establish a link between increased testosterone and selfishness in economic decision making and identify the neural mechanisms through which testosterone reduces generosity.’

The researchers recruited 58 men and divided them into two groups, one of which was administered a testosterone gel and the other a colourless placebo gel made of water and alcohol.

After a three-hour resting period, the participants were placed in an MRI scanner and their functional brain activity was measured while they undertook a so-called ‘social discounting’ task. 

This involved considering people of varying degrees of social distance — that is, in the sense of family/friend through acquaintance to complete stranger, rather than the notion of social distancing we have become accustomed to during COVID-19.

For each, participants were given a choice — would they prefer to take a given amount of money for themselves (the ‘selfish option’), or a smaller amount of money that also saw the person in question given money as well (the ‘generous’ option).

Values for the reward in the selfish option ranged from 130–290 CNY (£14–32), while the generous option was fixed at 130 CNY (£14) for both participant and person.

‘We find that testosterone induces more selfish choices, particularly when distant others are concerned,’ the researchers concluded.

Furthermore, the MRI scan revealed that the testosterone gel appeared to lower activity in the brain’s so-called temporoparietal junction, which previous studies have linked to a consideration for the welfare of others. 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Testosterone is the male sex hormone and is mostly made in the testicles, but also in adrenal glands, which are near the kidneys.

It causes the voice to deepen, body hair to grow and the genitals to become larger during puberty.

As well as affecting sex drive and sperm production, it also plays a role in developing strong bones and muscles, and how the body distributes fat.

Women also create small amounts of the hormone in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and it affects their fertility and bones and muscles.

Testosterone levels which are too high or too low can cause various problems.

Low testosterone in men can cause erection problems, low sex drive, infertility, weakened muscles and bones, body fat gain and hair loss.

Too much testosterone, however, can trigger puberty in boys under the age of nine, is linked to aggression, and can increase the risk of prostate problems, including cancer.

Male testosterone levels tend to be highest when he is around 20 years old, and decline naturally with age.


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