Testosterone is associated with status-seeking behaviors such as competition, which may depend on whether one wins or loses status, but also on the stability of one’s status. We examined (1) to what extent testosterone administration affects competition behavior in repeated social contests in men with high or low rank, and (2), whether this relationship is moderated by hierarchy stability, as predicted by the status instability hypothesis. Using a real effort-based design in healthy male participants (N = 173 males), we first found that testosterone (vs. placebo) increased motivation to compete for status, but only in individuals with an unstable low status. A second part of the experiment, tailored to directly compare stable with unstable hierarchies, indicated that exogenous testosterone again increased competitive motivation in individuals with a low unstable status, but decreased competition behavior in men with low stable status. Additionally, exogenous testosterone increased motivation in those with a stable high status. Further analysis suggested that these effects were moderated by individuals’ trait dominance, and genetic differences assessed by the androgen receptor (CAG-repeat) and dopamine transporter (DAT1) polymorphisms. Our study provides evidence that testosterone specifically boosts status-related motivation when there is an opportunity to improve one’s social status. The findings contribute to our understanding of testosterone’s causal role in status-seeking motivation in competition behavior, and indicate that testosterone adaptively increases our drive for high status in a context-dependent manner. We discuss potential neurobiological pathways through which testosterone may attain these effects on behavior.
Losecaat Vermeer, A.B., Krol, I., Gausterer, C., Wagner, B., Eisenegger, C., & Lamm, C. (2020). Exogenous testosterone increases status-seeking motivation in men with unstable low social status. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 113, 104552. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.104552 (pdf)