Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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February 16th, 2011

Trust Your Hormones


trustyourhormonesHere’s a plot of a future James Bond movie: The evil female character is lulled into trusting Bond after he spikes her drink with oxytocin, a brain hormone that gives her the warm-and-fuzzies. When her partner in crime realizes what’s happened, he drops the antidote-testosterone-into her mouth and she’s off to attack the world once more.

In 2005, Swiss researchers found in that a squirt of oxytocin would make players in an investment game more trusting. And recently, researchers at Utrecht University in Holland report that they have identified an antidote: Testosterone.

Reports the Independent of London:

The researchers found that when testosterone is administered as a small, one-off dose to female volunteers, their sense of trust towards strangers changes, but only if the women tend to be trusting in the first place.

Jack van Honk of the University of Cape Town in South Africa said the findings suggested that testosterone generated mistrust in more gullible individuals as a way of protecting them against the deceitful behavior of a competitive world.

He suggested that testosterone may work in opposition to the “love” hormone oxytocin, which is produced for instance in women during childbirth and promotes social bonding and trust between individuals.

Indeed, if our hormones do dictate so much, this may give new credence to a debate about the impact of birth control pills on our mate preferences.

Reports the New York Times:

Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, said the new finding was “very significant” and opened the door to studying the mechanisms that guide trust, social relationships and a sense of fairness, as well as the sources of variation between people.

Testosterone is known from other studies to enhance a woman’s libido, and there is a peak in production of the hormone just before ovulation. From an evolutionary perspective it seems natural that a woman should be most interested in sex when she is likeliest to conceive. But how does the hormone’s property of enhancing distrust fit into the picture. “Heightened skepticism about a potential mate’s trustworthiness also makes evolutionary sense in scenarios where a father’s ongoing support is crucial for the survival of the infant,” write Ryan T. Johnson and S. Marc Breedlove of the University of Michigan in a commentary.

So guys, you knew women were complex, but it is even worse than you thought: at the moment you are most desired, you are least trusted.

Or, as President Reagan was known to say, “trust but verify.”

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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