Testosterone overdose

Men in the US increasingly take testosterone supplements. This can lead to impulsive decision making. Hypo-gonadism, causing low T levels, can make a man fatigued, and uninterested in sex, which can be cured with T; but men with ordinary T levels are taking T. What is the effect?

Men and women were given the Cognitive Reflection test, which is a series of maths or logic puzzles with an intuitive, wrong answer and a need to think carefully to get the right answer. Eg, a bat and ball cost $1.10, the bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Not 10c.

Men and women given a testosterone boost are less likely to analyse carefully. They care less about what other people would think. They are more likely to think they outperform others. In simulated asset trading, they were more likely to overprice assets, and slower to recognise that prices were falling.

I got all that from the NYT, and recall a factlet from something I read some time- after watching a football match, fans of the winning team had increased T levels, and fans of the losing team had decreased T levels.

More impulsive decision making could be worthwhile in a leader. Where are the mammoths we need to hunt? If our best way of working it out is magic with mammoth bones, it’s better to just guess. We need a decision and it almost does not matter what that decision is. Other people will be grateful for leadership.

In the more complex modern world, good decision making takes account of a wide variety of expertise, and a testosterone-inspired random plumping may be sub-optimal. The problem is, only the women notice.

If high-T males rampage through life damaging things, and women trail in their wake, fixing the mess, the man might never realise he had made any false steps. However the research does not prove that high-T is a bad thing, just that a sudden change in hormone levels can discombobulate a person. I knew that already.

5 thoughts on “Testosterone overdose

  1. That study rings a bell! Google found the abstract for it, but the rest of the paper is not as easy to access…
    Spectator sports seem to fill some fundamental niche in men’s needs. Is sports fandom reinforced by a transient virility boost that derives from the testosterone? Did primitive man engage in tribal “combat” (counting coup or the like) to achieve the same goal? Has some Darwinian measure of reproductive fitness become attached to cheering for the right team? Might be an improvement…


    • Welcome, January. Thank you for commenting, and thank you for the link. I thought, 29 men, is that a large enough sample? What about other communal experiences, such as a religious service or a concert? The side bar linked to a study of 50 people, including women, contradicting the 1998 study but asserting testosterone levels of watchers increased to prepare their organism to defend or enhance their social status.


  2. I’ve heard men on testosterone replacement therapy speak of an initial euphoria which goes away after a while, that would probably screw with decision making. Use of it also tends to coincide with what my mom used to call “the stupid age” for men, late 40s- early 50s, with the midlife crisis and all.
    But saying testosterone per se leads to bad decision making sounds bitchy and about what one would expect of the NYT.


    • I noticed taking synthetic oestrogen and progesterone that sudden changes affected mood and emotion more than high or low levels. Possibly it is the same with testosterone. Reading those study abstracts I notice they claim natural levels may rise when the man expects a challenge to his status- requiring a different style of decision making; taking a pill now and then might make you Decisive but less Thoughtful, taking them all the time might make no change at all, unless your testicles were really, really small.


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