By Travis DeGraff
Being a good human often involves displaying aspects of altruism. Altruism is simply when you are willing to put yourself in harms way, for the benefit of others who you find similar. A lot of times this could be your family, or even something greater such as soldiers fighting for their country.
At the same time people inherently practice parochialism, which is when we show hostility towards “outsiders”. Or people who are simply different from you. A good example of this is when a new guy joins a forum, and has an alternative different idea about how things in bodybuilding work. If the regular or “veteran” forum members disagree with the new members ideas they will often attack the new members ideas. At that point the new guy on the forum is forced to fiercely defend themselves or simply never login again. At the same time if a veteran member suddenly had the exact same idea he may be forced to defend himself vs. other members, but in general he will be treated with a greater degree of respect than a new member posting the same ideas.
This behavior is prevalent, and something psychologists have studied and found to be consistently normal in humans. As you can imagine this is something scientists believe to be an evolutionary mechanism. For example picture two paleolithic tribes hundreds of years ago. At some point or another they are going to be fighting over the same resources, for example food, or shelter. The altruistic parochial male is going to do whatever is needed to ensure the well-being of his tribe even at the cost of his own health or life.
Parochial altruism has also been attributed to war. For example, as a country you will stick together. You become hostile towards those who are different or who have different ideas. Parochial altruism works both at an individual level, as well as at the macro level. In general people feel it isnt necessarily a good thing, because it promotes conformity, and limits the sharing of new ideas. So what does all this have to do with the alpha high testosterone living man?
High testosterone levels have been attributed to everything from high self confidence, to social aggression (or roid rage as the media says). As men we have higher testosterone levels, which in general makes us more competitive, prone to ascertain resources, and protective of social status. It also makes us a bit less trusting, and in general a little less empathetic. I’m sure you see this everyday at home or in your interactions with women. They tend to be more caring and empathetic, and less concerned with retaliating against things that are different.
Now previous research has showed that high testosterone levels both attribute to, and impose the opposite of altruism. Why the conflicting data? Well authors of the newest paper from the University of Hamburg believe this is an issue of ingroup vs. outgroup dynamics, or parochialism [Ref 1]. Previous studies on high testosterone levels didnt determine whether the guys with high testosterone considered those around them as similar and in the ingroup, or if they were very different people. People perhaps they didnt trust the others involved in the study. So these University of Hamburg authors set out to test parochial altruism in ingroup vs. outgroup settings.
Soccer Hooligans – Ultimatum Game
In order to test their hypothesis they simulated a game which forced one man to offer another man “points”. If they accepted the points both walked away with something, if they rejected it both were left with nothing. They did this using soccer fans, and pitted them against people who were fans of the same team, neutral teams, and strong rival teams (antagonistic group). The game can be summarized by this diagram:
As you might guess parochial altruism showed its true colors. In general more “fair” deals were made to, and accepted by members who were fans of the same team. While the opposite was true of the deals offered and made between rival fans. You can see the % of deals accepted and rejected in the following graph, the important line is the solid filled squares:
High Testosterone and Protecting Your Ingroup
The entire purpose of this paper was to determine whether or not high testosterone levels created a greater bias in the ingroup vs. the outgroup. Meaning that someone with high testosterone is willing to take a bad deal from someone in the ingroup, and act with greater hostility to bad deals from outgroups. As you can see in the following bar graph fair deals from within ones group were never rejected. But fair deals from outgroups were rejected at a much higher frequency from men with high testosterone levels vs. low testosterone levels.
For us (those of you with high testosterone levels), this can mean a few things. For one, we tend to protect our group, for example your friends or family. We do this even at our own detriment. Remember this when making critical decision. Being conscious of your “hormonal psychology” can help you make better decision. The authors state it this way:
“What is noteworthy about these findings is that high testosterone subjects were actually willing to altruistically sacrifice part of their personal gain for augmenting the probability of winning an extra group reward. This observation clearly refutes the view that testosterone may generally promote antisocial behaviors or aggressive responses , but underlines the rather specific role of this hormone in the fine-tuning of male social cognition.”
Now I don’t expect the general media to report on such a finding. I mean “roid rage” is the problem with all large muscled men, right? Please…