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Chemists' name for honesty: testosterone

The steroid hormone seems to reduce men's lying

Have you ever wondered whether there is a simple explanation why maths and exact sciences are mostly boys' game, why physics is a macho subject of a sort, why Feynman and Einstein slept with many women while Schrödinger lived both with his wife and his mistress, and why assorted lying bitches such as the global warming alarmists have small penises?

Well, Maria Shriver might agree that this guy won't be the best example of the testosterone link to "no cheating" and "no lying" but I wanted a recognizable symbol of testosterone here, anyway. ;-)

A new research partly funded from a "Starting Grant" by the European Research Council and freshly published in PLoS One may bring you the explanation you've been looking for:

Testosterone Administration Reduces Lying in Men
A German-Dutch collaboration consisting of Matthias Wibral, Thomas Dohmen, Dietrich Klingmüller, Bernd Weber, and Armin Falk took 91 men, and transdermally improved 46 of them with 50 mg of testosterone while the remaining 45 males got a placebo replacement. Then...

Then they made all the men play a game in which they could increase the profit by lying and cheating. Lying and cheating was omnipresent. However, the dishonestly accumulated profit among the men unsupported by the testosterone was significantly higher than it was for the testesterone-improved men – and the excess stands at the 99% confidence level, something like 2.5 sigma.

The research was described by International Business Times, Eurasia Review, and others.

You see that the reported signal isn't overwhelming, relatively to the particle physics standards, but it looks nontrivial, too. At the same moment, there are many reasons to think that testosterone is responsible for reshaping the human body and probably also the human mind in many respects. In some sense, it makes it more structured and sharper, less smooth – just look at what it does with the muscles.

Of course, the testosterone can't be a totally flawless infallible universal explanation for everything. For example, I used to have debates about those matters with my former fellow Junior Fellow who is also a string theorist and female. I conjectured that she and other women who are achievers in physics had a higher level of testosterone. She replied that she had either a reduced level of testosterone or excess estrogen or something like that so my prediction failed – assuming that she had enough testosterone to tell me the truth about her hormone levels, of course. :-)

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snail feedback (32) :

reader BlueScreenOfDeath said...


'Er indoors wants to know it the experiment could be repeated with oestrogen.

reader Luboš Motl said...

It's been tried by Al Gore. The world, when injected estrogen, starts to believe global warming. See 2:05 at

Well, look at the whole song. ;-)

reader Philippe said...

My understanding of testosterone is the more you have, the more you want sex, and the final result is the more you accept to do everything, including cheating and lying, to have sex! :)
But of course feminists will tell you that men and women are totally identical to men, and the reason men are not interested by sewing or knitting for example is only because society told them sewing or knitting are bad for men! ;)

reader anna v said...

People in soft disciplines have a hard time understanding that correlation is not causation. Their experiment may have shown

a) that honest results are enhanced by testosterone
b) that extra testosterone pushes the fantasy life running in the background of the mind of any male, to stronger distraction and less focusing on the objectives of the game, particularly if there were female figures involved, administering the game or in the playing cards.

or c) .....

reader papertiger0 said...

How ironic on those testosterone driven occasions when I need to lie.
It explains many mysteries.

Let's make it work for us. Come to Vegas, leave your boner pills at home!

reader papertiger0 said...

Doc Life - that guy is preaching the Gospel.

reader Shannon said...

Testogel or the Truth Drug ? ;-)

reader Brian G Valentine said...

If there was any merit to this "study," why have so many steroid tainted athletes been deceptive about their hormone use?

reader George Christodoulides said...

"assorted lying bitches such as the global warming alarmists have small penises?" hahahaha

if you are talking about Lisa Randall in different aspects she is manly looking. and i don't want to start about how "feminine" most women in physics are.

what i never understood is that, do the manly looking women in physics realise they are manly looking or they are in denial?

do you remember the astronomer that was talking against the EU commission video with the high heels and lipstick?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Anna, well, I think that they just measured a particular cold hard number and from this point of view, a) and b) are the same thing.

After all, the elevated scientific integrity of some males could also have a more detailed explanation b), couldn't it? Honest scientists could have de facto obsessive quasi-sexual imaginations leading them to science, while focusing less on the "game", practical life.

reader anna v said...

This is completely MCP talk and again displays the naive attitude that correlation is causation.

A serious woman physicist, and actually a serious career woman in a male dominated environment has two choices: hide her femininity and focus on the job at hand or flaunt it, catch the dominant male of the environment in sexual thrall and advance in that career.

When you are young, in university and graduate school and post doc positions, as a woman physicist you strike out like a sore thumb, because there are not many women in the groups, maybe 10%. You become the target of male nerds who see only librarians secretaries and the few women physicists around. If you are serious in your physics learning you have to underplay your femininity and even then, inadvertently you may attract a follower, even if you are of average and lower attractive caliber: there is little competition. You have to become one of the guys and talk physics physics physics.

Having worked off and on for forty years in the CERN environment I can assure you that this is how women physicists blend in. Quiet clothes, little makeup, no flirtation unless it is serious. One of the guys, and I am sure the guys appreciate it: who needs a flirty partner in a night shift fraught with the unexpected.

If a well balanced study were made I am sure that the profile of women in physics versus let us say literature would not differ as far as real femininity goes, i.e. desire for mate, family and looking good. The difference would be in the outside trappings that the average MCP considers feminine.

reader anna v said...

Well, b) is about distraction, not focusing on the rules of the game and thus doing worse, not because of honesty. These sort of studies are fluff because they do not control the sample sufficiently.

reader Luboš Motl said...

You haven't addressed my concern with your thinking, Anna. The question still remains what's the physical difference between "honesty due to fundamental honesty" and "honesty due to distraction". How do you measure whether someone is honest just because he is distracted? What does it operationally mean?

People who don't lie because of religion may be honest because they're distracted by God. Does it make any difference? This may just add an extra layer of "detailed theory" but surely doesn't invalidate the original claim about honesty.

reader Smoking Frog said...

I've noticed that many crackpots (not all of them) smile as they debate. On the internet, some of them put meaningless smiley faces in their messages.

reader Shannon said...

SmokingFrog, is it true for presidential debates too ? ;-)

reader Smoking Frog said...

Shannon - That could be, but bullies often smile, and it seems doubtful that they could be low-testosterone creatures.

Anyway, did you see the debate? Jesus H. Christ, what a horse's ass that man is! This impressed me even more the next day than immediately after the debate. (I think I'm slow to react, in many things.)

reader Shannon said...

That's exactly the man I was thinking of :-D

reader anna v said...

If you look into the physiology of the grimace of smiling it also has a threatening meaning, showing one's teeth, as far as bullies go.

reader George Christodoulides said...

hi, i will avoid getting into the physiology and face anatomy. we had a discussion about a similar argument before and like i have said about a different point some months ago, what you have said is part of the reason but part of the reason could be an important part or a small part.

like i have also noted before and Lubos has many times before. you first see the data and then you make the conclusions. you are talking about the psychological aspect of it. the percentage of women that i have seen in physics that their faces and anatomy is not feminine is really high. like i have mentioned before watch the video with the astronomer i mentioned and give her a haircut ad tell me if she does not look feminine because of her psychology.

you are supposed to be a scientist and think with reason. this whole mcp does not belong here. no one stops women from doing science. if i had to start showing faces and names of successful female scientists that look manly i could fit pages and i am sure in your forty years you have seen many more than i have.

reader anna v said...

This cannot be resolved without a real unbiased research. You may not have noticed but after the teen and reproductive years male and female faces tend to look alike, and by the geriatric times sometimes you have to be told if it is a man or a woman. The secondary gender characteristics fade with age because the hormones fade with age.

A woman physicist who is successful will certainly not be much younger than forty and most of them will be recognized as successful after the menopause. Your personal statistics just displays your biases. Of course there are masculine looking women and lesbians in all large female samples as there are effeminate men and homosexuals in all large male samples, but they are not the rule, maybe they are 10%. If you are biased in thinking that only males can be real physicists then you extrapolate the 10% to the whole sample ignoring other reasons of "masculine appearance", as the protective cover, that I described above, and the effect of depleted hormones as age gets us all.

reader George Christodoulides said...

hi again. i just don't want to continue this and having to insult people. i referred to two people and Lisa Randall was one of them because this is who i thought Lubos meant in "fellow Junior Fellow". the other one was an astronomer that talked about an EU video Lubos posted promoting women in science.
besides the obvious jaw shape and size, check the kind of forehead Lisa Randall has. if you have not noticed then check an introductory art book about drawing faces of males and females.

reader George Christodoulides said...

the reason that i read this blog is because its readers tend to be smarter than other ones. don't make me stop reading it.
don't you realise that your comment makes no sense? and who voted for it?

testosterone is a hormone that is highly correlated with intelligence if you have the right mechanism.

this is why my back hair is growing dangerously!

reader victor said...

there is some new research on a similar theme
BTW, thanks for an interesting post about the difference between classical physics and quantum mechanics. I seriously think that you should write a book (or textbook) about quantum mechanics.

reader Brian G Valentine said...

George, put a /sarc in your message or some other indication that lets people know when you are joking around

reader anna v said...

I suppose our difference lies in whether we accept this test measures honesty. Let me make an attempt at c)

Suppose extra testosterone increases itch in the nose and the ones with the intake of testosterone will be getting an itch to rub the nose much more often the the placebo group. They will miss chances to cheat because of the distraction.

My objection is that performing worse in a cheating game is not a proof of being honest .

reader Tom Trevor said...

I was just thinking that I understand quantum physics better than I understand relationships, and I don't understand quantum physics at all, yet this explain it all; women lie because they aren't man enough to tell the truth. Finally the universe is explained.

reader Tom Trevor said...

We don't have many if you noticed Clemens was found not guilty.

reader Neuro said...

The image that comes to mind is a muscley guy staring down someone across the table, thinking, "Come on, I dare you to lie to me". The skeptic in me can't accept these results as significant in any way. Although, it would be awesome if everybody believed this, it would be an awesome card to play. "Oh crap, look out, that guy's a scientist!"

reader jo said...

Wow this is cool! I wonder if the testosterone through pills, gels, injections, patches, or creams work the same way? Since I've heard from this site that testosterone creams work really well!


reader no_shot said...

steroids also make you produce estrogen.

reader verna said...

We all know that there are some people are encountered problems in terms of less interest to sex and there are some products which produced to help you increase testosterone level.

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