Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Effects of Testosterone on Women... Or Not!

[racist and sexistly biologically deterministic (or "essentialist") image is from here]
It remains my contention that testosterone (and anything else deemed strictly "biological") is not to blame for men's aggressive and otherwise violent behavior towards women. Part of why I believe this is that I've witnessed pre-adolescent boys without much "T" terrorising other children in grade school. The terrorisers were not the largest or strongest children and the terrorised were not the smallest or weakest. Far from it.

We know that in lesbian and gay relationships, it is not always or necessarily the larger person who is the chronic physical abuser or batterer. And one presumes that in at least some physically abusive lesbian and gay relationships, hormone levels, while variant, are more or less comparable.

Another reason I believe "hormones" don't cause raced and gendered violence is because whites terrorise and abuse people of color, and whites, as far as I know, are not known for having extraordinary high levels of T. Nor are the rich, but they do violence all the time to the poor. What those who commit systematic violence and other oppressive harm with impunity have in common is that they are atop a social hierarchy, and are not accountable to those "beneath them". Not levels of testosterone.

The mother of a female friend, when my friend was a girl, was beaten and otherwise abused by her mother repeatedly. The mother did so only until her daughter was large enough to stand up to her verbally, and then leave home. Did the mother's testosterone level go down when her daughter grew more verbally empowered? Or was she finally no maintained before?

In what follows, what is revealed is that people behave, in large part, the way they are expected to behave, by themselves or society. Men are expected to beat the women they proclaim to love only because the women are expected to accept being beaten, and rarely kill the fuckers who do the beating. If, hypothetically, the consequence of rape was that the raper died instantly upon threatening, terrorising, or violating a woman--each and every time, with no exceptions, we'd likely see a very quick "adaption of behavior" among men prone to rape women. In the article below, the issue isn't rape or battery. It is about what nontrans women who are given testosterone believe will be a consequence of being given it.

What follows is all from here.

Prejudice vs. biology - testosterone makes people more selfish, but only if they think it does

Category: Altruism • Cooperation • Fairness • Game theory • Psychology • Risk-taking
Posted on: December 8, 2009 12:00 PM, by Ed Yong
What do you think a group of women would do if they were given a dose of testosterone before playing a game? Our folk wisdom tells us that they would probably become more aggressive, selfish or antisocial. Well, that's true... but only if they think they've been given testosterone.
Hulk.jpgIf they don't know whether they've been given testosterone or placebo, the hormone actually has the opposite effect to the one most people would expect - it promotes fair play. The belligerent behaviour stereotypically linked to testosterone only surfaces if people think they've been given hormone, whether they receive a placebo or not. So strong are the negative connotations linked to testosterone that they can actually overwhelm andreverse the hormone's actual biological effects.
If ever a hormone was the subject of clichés and stereotypes, it is testosterone. In pop culture, it has become synonymous with masculinity, although women are subject to its influence too. Injections of testosterone can make lab rats more aggressive, and this link is widely applied to humans. The media portrays "testosterone-charged" people as sex-crazed and financially flippant and the apparent link with violence is so pervasive that the use of steroids has even been used as a legal defence in a US court.
Christoph Eisenegger from the University of Zurich tested this folk wisdom by enrolling 60 women in a double-blind randomised controlled trial. They were randomly given either a 0.5 milligram drop of testosterone or a placebo. He only recruited women because previous research shows exactly how much testosterone you need to have an effect, and how long it takes to do so. We don't know that for men.
The women couldn't have known which substance they were given, but Eisenegger asked them to guess anyway. Their answers confirmed that they couldn't tell the difference between the two drops. But they would also confirm something more startling by the trial's end.
Each woman was paired with a partner (from another group of 60) and played an "Ultimatum game" for a pot of ten Swiss francs. One woman, the "proposer", decided how to allocate it and her partner, "the responder" could choose to accept or refuse the offer. If she accepts, the money is split as suggested and if she refuses, both players go empty-handed. The fairest split would be an equal one but from the responder's point of view, any money would be better than nothing. The game rarely plays out like that though - so disgusted are humans with unfairness that responders tend to reject low offers, sacrificing their own meagre gains to spite their proposers.
Overall, Eisenegger found that women under the influence of testosterone actually offered more money to their partners than those who received the placebo. The effect was statistically significant and it's exactly the opposite of the selfish, risk-taking, antagonistic behaviour that stereotypes would have us predict.
Those behaviours only surfaced if women thought they had been given testosterone. Those women made lower offers than their peers who believed they had tasted a placebo, regardless of which drop they had been given. The amazing thing is that this negative 'imagined' effect actually outweighed the positive 'real' one. On average, a drop of testosterone increased a proposer's offer by 0.6 units, but belief in the hormone's effects reduced the offer by 0.9 units.
The difference between these values is not statistically significant, so we can't conclude that the negative effect outweighs the positive one, but the two are certainly comparable. Either way, it is a staggering result. It implies that the biological effect of a behaviour-altering hormone can be masked, if not reversed, by what we think it does. It's somewhat similar to the nocebo effect, where people experience unwanted side effects from a drug because they believe that such effects will happen.
How can we explain these results? Certainly, Eisenegger accounted for the volunteers' levels of testosterone before the experiment, as well as their levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), their mood and their feelings of anxiety, anger, calmness or wakefulness. None of these factors affected his results.
It's possible that people who are naturally inclined towards selfish, aggressive or dominant behaviour would find it easier to rationalise their actions if they felt that they were under the spell of testosterone. However, these personality traits weren't any more common among the recruits who thought they were given testosterone than those who thought they had a placebo.
Instead, Eisenegger suggests that testosterone's negative stereotype provided some of the women with a licence to misbehave. Their beliefs relieved them from the responsibility of making socially acceptable offers because they thought they would be driven to make greedy ones.
At first, this work seems to contradict the results from earlier studies, which suggest that high testosterone levels are linked with risk-taking, selfishness and aggression. But these studies can't tell us whether the former causes the latter. Indeed, another randomised trial that I've blogged about before found that doses of testosterone didn't affect a woman'sselflessness, trust, trustworthiness, fairness or attitude to risk. This study also used an Ultimatum game but it only analysed the behaviour of the responder rather than the proposer.
The alternative hypothesis says that testosterone plays a much subtler role in shaping our social lives. When our social status is challenged, testosterone drives us to increase our standing; how we do that depends on the situation. Traders might take bigger financial risks, while prisoners might have a dust-up Eisenegger thinks that this is the right explanation, and his results support his view. In his experiment, women who received testosterone would be more inclined towards acts that boosted their social status, and the best way of doing that was to make a fair offer.
The message from this study is clear, and Eisenegger sums it up best himself:
"Whereas other animals may be predominantly under the influence of biological factors such as hormones, biology seems to exert less control over human behaviour. Our findings also teach an important methodological lesson for future studies: it is crucial to control for subjects' beliefs because the [effect of a pure substance] may be otherwise under- or overestimated."

Reference: Nature doi:10.1038/nature08711
More on hormones and placebo:

“I read Playboy for the articles”: Justifying and Rationalizing Unethical Decisions

[image is from here]
Queen Bee, one of many commenters over at The Experience Project has made what I consider to be a perfectly appropriate statement to introduce this post. It is from here and an excerpt of it reads as follows:

Posted on December 14th, 2009 at 7:33 PM
I got a man who thinks I am strange

i got another who thinks I am game
[...] Ever wonder why you see me with no make-up and my crazy curly hair,
because I want someone to see past it...
see past my body, my face, my hair....
see me,
because I try so desperately to show you... just f.ucking LOOK

*     *     *
What follows immediately is from The Experience Project, online. Note that the BEST answer was flagged and removed. Hmmm. Isn't THAT called censorship? Hey all you anti-censorship dudes: go after THIS group, not women who are trying to pass civil rights legislation making it actionable to turn women into things that are harmed because they've been turned into things by white hetero men. After this bit, some thoughts and analysis by me, and then "THE STUDY"!!!!

Experiences Shared: 3,607,167 [in their "

Resolved Question

Is it me or does PLAYBOY have really good articles?

Posted 3 months ago

Sorry, this best answer was flagged and cannot be displayed.

Other 5 Answers to Is it me or does PLAYBOY have really good articles?

Posted Aug 21st, 2009 at 3:37PM
Playboy has articles?!
Rated: +1Vote for this!  

Posted Aug 21st, 2009 at 5:29AM
it's not just you.
Rated: +1Vote for this!  

Posted Aug 21st, 2009 at 4:02AM
Of course it does... among other things.

Among other THINGS, indeed. And to the first commenter: nice photo... NOT. But that image he posts, presumably of himself, just goes to show ya that white heterosexual men do not have "beauty standards" for themselves. Pull up images and video footage of ppl on beaches and you'll see the same thing over and over: images--moving or still--of women who are struggling to conform to narrow standards of very oppressive patriarchal Western beauty, and men who are not struggling to do anything comparable along those lines. Your honor, I submit as piece of evidence #1 the photo above of "acoguy"--yet another white-privileged middle aged man who things ppl will be interested in seeing the latest hijinx he can display, while also displaying to us that white men have no socially mandated beauty standards recognisable to THIS gay whiteboy! Honestly, when we say WHM have no decency, what we mean, in part, is that WHM do not hold each other accountable to how grotesquely they present themselves to the rest of us, in appearance and behavior! (Not that I find Photoshopped and otherwise altered images of objectified and pornographised men any more attractive!)

Apparently, from the language used and consciousness undisplayed in the pdf file below, students at the Harvard Business School learn narrowly within their majors. "Harvard Business School": that's supposed to make us non-college goers, and even non-Ivy League colleges goers, exclaim inwardly or not: "Ooooh, that's one of them SMART schools, ain't it!?") are required to learn very little about who humanity is, normally or usually. And they are not even required to even know what Playboy is when they do studies involving it: what the magazine does, which images it shows, what is done to the almost always young non-disabled women presented as sexxx-things in the magazine, sometimes sexxx-things that go to college, sometimes sexxx-things with a favorite color or musical artist. This is a full-on critique of Playboy, not the women who pose in it. For those people ARE people, fully. But what Playboy DOES to those women is where the dehumanisation and oppression comes in, the patriarchal uses and abuses, the white hetero male supremacist alterations, acquisition, and abuses of her being--physical, emotional, spiritual, political--to produce images of people who are not really those people at all. Many times in dominant media I've listened to women speak about what they think of the images of them in Playboy. What is often said is something to the effect of "Wow, I sure don't look like that in real life!" Why would that be???

Once you airbrush an image, the old-fashioned way or with Photoshop and other programs designed to alter images in myriad misogynistic and racist ways, it is no longer an image of the person; it is something else. It is an altered image of a person, designed (literally) to appeal to pornographic het men's "preferences" for what they "consider" beautiful and pretty and sexy. That het men who look at online and offline pornography believe they are looking only at "scantily clad women" is one of the biggest lies white het male conservative and white het male liberal society tells itself. For a better understanding of what REALLY is in Playboy, see  here.

This particular research, with various studies done and described, is worded in ways that make me really angry: discussing looking at Playboy magazine as an issue of "morality and doing things that may be deemed perverted" is among them! Referring to non-disabled people as "people" is another. Referring to heterosexual men as "men" is another. To what degrees are we made aware of any person's race, class, and other factors? Well, clearly this study assumes "the normal human" to be a white, class-privileged, heterosexual non-disabled male of a certain age". Yeah, right.

The ACTUAL global norm for HUMAN is women of color of many ages; women living in poverty by U.S. standards, women living in what is termed the Third World--NOT the "First" [read: Last] one; women neither very, very young nor very old, due to death in infancy and early life--including death of women giving birth as well as to not living long due to life-ending illness and disease; women living in places where there isn't sufficient clean water, nutritious food, or adequate health care; women disabled by capitalism, racism, and patriarchy, at least, if not also medically/physically or by depression and PTSD due to surviving men's traumatic behavior against women and girls. With that in mind, let's move onto our study of why "people" do the things they do, and with what degree of consciousness and justification. And please note, a far more in depth analysis of the ethics at work in some of the study are described here in Yurugu by Marimba Ani, far more brilliantly. (Dr. Ani obtained her BA degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and MA and Ph.D. degrees in anthropology from the New School for Social Research in NYC-- which is an excellent university--far better than Haahvid.)

The Harvard Business School Study: “I read Playboy for the articles”: Justifying and rationalizing questionable preferences
by Zoë Chance and Michael I. Norton