AUSTIN, Texas—Leadership status affects cognitive performance of people with relatively higher testosterone levels, according to a new study that will be published in the February issue of Hormones and Behavior.
The study was conducted by the psychology research team of Dr. Matt Newman, Dr. Robert Josephs and Jennifer Guinn Sellers at The University of Texas at Austin.
“The desire to regain high status may be the biggest obstacle to regaining it—at least on a cognitive task,” Newman said. “Testosterone levels have a lot to do with how people respond to threats and challenges. Both men and women with relatively higher testosterone levels appear to pay more attention to their status in a situation. If their status is threatened, then they are more driven to regain it.”
During the study, people were asked to complete a spatial and verbal test under one of three conditions. They were given a leader role (high status), a follower role (low status), or no information about their status (control group). Testosterone levels were collected in the beginning, and blood pressure was measured throughout to determine the participants’ comfort level. Men and women with relatively high testosterone did well on both tests if they were in the leader role, but poorly if they were in the follower role. The high testosterone group also showed an increase in blood pressure when assigned to a low status role.
“We speculate that high testosterone individuals are comfortable in a high status position, and able to concentrate on the task at hand,” Newman said. “In a low status position, however, they appear to be distracted by their low status, and thus presumably less able to concentrate on the task at hand.
“They were more impaired by low status than they were helped by high status,” Newman added. “If you’re a high testosterone person, it is a really big deal to lose status, where as to get a high status position is more expected.
“As far as the workplace setting, I’d speculate that a high testosterone person might be more productive at work in a leadership position.”
This study may have implications for academic settings as well.
“If the testing situation is set up in such a way that status is threatened, then higher testosterone individuals may fail to perform at their peak,” Newman said. “But if this pressure can be removed or minimized, then it may put test-takers on a more even playing field.”
For more information contact: Dr. Matt Newman, 512- 232-7953.