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Motivation in performance is often measured via competitions. Winning a competition has
been found to increase the motivation to perform in subsequent competitions. One potential
neurobiological mechanism that regulates the motivation to compete involves sex hormones,
such as the steroids testosterone and estradiol. A wealth of studies in both nonhuman animals
and humans have shown that a rise in testosterone levels before and after winning a competition
enhances the motivation to compete. There is strong evidence for acute behavioral
effects in response to steroid hormones. Intriguingly, a substantial testosterone surge following
a win also appears to improve an individual’s performance in later contests resulting in a
higher probability of winning again. These effects may occur via androgen and estrogen pathways
modulating dopaminergic regions, thereby behavior on longer timescales. Hormones
thus not only regulate and control social behavior but are also key to adult neurobehavioral
plasticity. Here, we present literature showing hormone-driven behavioral effects that persist
for extended periods of time beyond acute effects of the hormone, highlighting a fundamental
role of sex steroid hormones in adult neuroplasticity. We provide an overview of the relationship
between testosterone, motivation measured from objective effort, and their influence in
enhancing subsequent effort in competitions. Implications for an important role of testosterone
in enabling neuroplasticity to improve performance will be discussed.
Losecaat Vermeer A.B, Riecansky I, Eisenegger C. Competition, sex hormones and adult neurobehavioral plasticity, Progress in Brain Research, 2016, 229, 213-238. PDF
"Effects of testosterone administration on strategic gambling in poker play" published in "Scientific Reports"
Testosterone has been associated with economically egoistic and materialistic behaviors, but
defensibly driven by reputable status seeking- also with economically fair, generous and cooperative behaviors. Problematically, social status and economic resources are inextricably intertwined in humans, thus testosterone’s primal motives are concealed. We critically addressed this issue by performing a placebo-controlled single-dose testosterone administration in young women, who played a game of bluff poker wherein concerns for status and resources collide. The profit-maximizing strategy in this game is to mislead the other players by bluffing randomly (independent of strength of the hand), thus also when holding very poor cards (cold bluffing). The profit-maximizing strategy also dictates the players in this poker game to never call the other players’ bluffs. For reputable-status seeking these materialistic strategies are disadvantageous; firstly, being caught cold bluffing damages one’s reputation by revealing deceptive intent, and secondly, not calling the other players’ bluffs signals submission in blindly tolerating deception. Here we show that testosterone administration in this game of bluff poker significantly reduces random bluffing, as well as cold bluffing, while significantly increasing calling. Our data suggest that testosterone in humans primarily motivates for reputable status seeking, even when this elicits behaviors that are economically disadvantageous.
van Honk J, Will G-J, Terburg D, Raub W, Eisenegger C, Buskens V. Effects of testosterone administration on strategic gambling in poker play. Scientific Reports. 2016; 6: 18096. PDF