Testosterone affects women’s trust and may make you cheat

A Dutch study suggests that women who get doses of the hormone testosterone are less trusting of strangers.

The findings suggest that one role of testosterone may be to aid survival in the “social jungle”.

Although normally thought of as the “male hormone”, testosterone fuels the sex drive of both men and women.

The research doesn’t prove a direct connection between testosterone, which is found in both sexes. But it does appear to indicate that the hormone helps reduce trust in women and, “in our opinion, protects them from harm,” said study co-author Jack van Honk, a psychologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The overall role of testosterone in the body remains something of a mystery. “We don’t know a lot, to be completely honest,” said Paola Sapienza, a professor of finance at Northwestern University who studies testosterone and how it affects decision-making. The hormone seems to be connected to aggression, she said, but “nobody really knows the mechanism by which testosterone changes behavior.”

To make matters more complicated in the world of science, it’s less clear what it does to women, she said, and there have been relatively few studies into testosterone’s effects on them.

Scientists led by Dr Jack van Honk, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, administered under-the-tongue doses of both testosterone and a “dummy” placebo to 24 young women with an average age of 20.

After taking each one the women were asked to rate the trustworthiness of strangers’ faces in a series of photographs.

Each picture was assigned a score from minus 100 (very untrustworthy) to plus 100 (very trustworthy).

Women who appeared the most trusting after receiving the “dummy” placebo reduced their scores by an average of 10 points when their testosterone was boosted.

After they’d been given testosterone, the women were less likely to rank faces as being trustworthy, the researchers found. This effect was especially strong in women who were the most trusting to begin with.

Figuring out what this means is the tricky part. “We need to understand what is happening in the brain to draw further conclusions,” van Honk said, although he added that the findings appear to show that testosterone makes women more cautious about strangers.

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