T & Sympathy: Higher Testosterone May Make Men Less Empathetic Than Women

Good news guys, the next time your wife or girlfriend is giving you a row for not being thoughtful or supportive enough, according to new research from Holland we can now legitimately respond with,

“Sorry love, I guess I’m just too damn manly.”

The team reported that the male hormone can affect communication between the parts of the brain which govern emotion, ultimately lowering empathy.

The study, led by Dr Peter Bos of Utrecht University, recruited a small sample of 16 women and investigated how testosterone supplementation altered their ability to interpret emotion and display empathy.

Doses administered to the subjects were high enough to raise the hormone levels of those taking part by up to ten times what they would normally produce.

In an experiment not unlike one of those commonly used to identify autism – which incidentally females traditionally perform better in – the group were asked to identify the mood of others, judging from pictures of eyes alone. Researchers found that the women who had been given the testosterone both took longer to make up their mind and were also more likely to make mistakes.

Subsequent functional MRI scans on participants appeared to confirm that just one dose of the male hormone is enough to modify the connections between the parts of the brain known as inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the supplementary motor area (SMA) all of which are primarily involved in processing emotion.

Bos’ team cite their findings as evidence that these three brain regions work together to process external information and determine the correct response to the social cues given by others.
The scientists explained in a piece for the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology that,

“Our findings thus reveal a neural mechanism by which testosterone can impair emotion-recognition ability, and may link to the symptomatology of [autism spectrum conditions], in which the same neural network is implicated.”

Studies up to this point have shown that women are generally more empathetic than men, outperforming them in tasks which utilise the skill. From an evolutionary point of view, this biological difference may once have served a purpose in social interaction.

It’s important to point out that this study is not suggesting that high testosterone makes us a social shambles, or particularly cold and uncaring, simply that it takes us a little longer to figure out the right thing to say or way to react in comparison to women. It’s maybe not as instinctive, but we still get there.

In the meantime though remember that, with higher testosterone comes greater muscle mass and what possible human emotion or social situation exists that couldn’t be improved by you dishing out a couple of free tickets to the gun show?

Write a comment