The stereotype of an uber-masculine, greedy dictator may be a function of hormones, according to new research that identifies high testosterone levels as a cause of selfishness in those who have power.
Researchers at Switzerland's University of Lausanne developed a two-pronged experiment to see how participants would distribute a given amount of prize money to their followers when placed in hypothetical leadership roles. They found that the leaders who were given more followers tended to hang on to more money.
In the second part of the experiment, researchers took mouth swabs of the participants and frequently remind them of a survey — taken weeks before the experiment — that determined what the majority of people believed to be a fair distribution of money. Here's what happened next, from The Atlantic:
When leaders’ power over a situation was relatively low, roughly half of them stayed true to the social norms they helped develop; this dropped to 19 percent when they were given more power. Also, the greediest behavior was linked to high baseline levels of testosterone.
Ergo, amped-up men with a lot of power are a recipe for disaster. Women, too, since the researchers controlled for hormonal differences between the groups.
Of course, this study doesn't necessarily mean you can blame greediness on hormones; there are myriad factors that can influence a powerful person's decision-making, corrupt or otherwise. It's just a good reminder that hormones (testosterone and others) can have a massive influence on human behavior, so it's important to treat them with respect!
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