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Posted by Dr. Kate Placzek on Tuesday, 10 July 2018

New Study Links Testosterone & Desire For Luxury Goods

Man with luxurious car and outfit

Testosterone, so meaningful to a man’s behavior, is the evolutionary force behind everything intrinsically “male.”  

Historical stereotypes peg testosterone as the macho elixir of legendary magnitude – the “chest-thumping hormone of aggression.” New research, however, is beginning to tease out previously unknown subtleties of testosterone’s effects on behavior. Testosterone is non-trivial for social functioning –  increasing levels enhance generosity [1], cooperation [2], and honesty [3], thereby emphasizing that its effects in shaping male psychological makeup are infinitely more complex than previously thought.

New Study Points to Altered Consumer Preferences after Testosterone Dosing

A new study published in Nature Communications, resulting from ongoing collaborations between ZRT Laboratory and several academic institutions, explored the effects of testosterone supplementation on young men’s preference for luxury products [4]. It turns out that men in the testosterone group had a much stronger preference for goods perceived as having higher status, compared to men that received placebo, suggesting that consumption of status goods may stem from neuroendocrine motives. The surge in testosterone, established by testing these men’s salivary hormones by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS), highly suggests that some region in the brain was stimulated to promote stronger attitudes toward status-enhancing goods, and not those associated with power or high quality – thereby reinforcing a sort of nuanced “consumer aggression,” as a means to gain social status.

The results of this “buying under the influence” study implicate testosterone’s role in social adaptation, highlighting its role in status-enhancing behaviors. The pursuit of status enhancement appears to be hardwired into the male neurophysiology. Human males no longer have a need for indiscriminate aggression, which, when it boils down to it, is just one of the means to achieve status. Men who are knowledgeable or skilled in a particular area can nowadays achieve social dominance without physically conquering their adversaries.

Testosterone Affects Attitudes to Competition

Whether physical or mental, testosterone surges propagate the desire to dominate – its levels spike as an individual embarks upon a task that may significantly affect status. 

Whether physical or mental, testosterone surges propagate the desire to dominate – its levels spike as an individual embarks upon a task that may significantly affect status. The motivation to continue after losing a competition seems to be strongly affected by the rise in testosterone – losers with more testosterone are more likely to compete again [5]. In a real-life scenario, prior to performing a particularly challenging and demanding  task testosterone levels have been shown to rise to the occasion [6]

What is it about testosterone that makes it seem to mimic the feel-good reward-enhancing actions of the neurotransmitter dopamine? Turns out, a downstream metabolite of testosterone, referred to as 5α-androstanediol, binds to dopamine receptors in the brain and enhances its actions [7]. Being at the top triggers the feel-good dopamine surge in the brain, which is amplified by this testosterone metabolite. Testosterone is prominently featured within the reward pathways – stimulating dopamine biosynthesis and potentiating its signaling throughout the brain [7] [8]. Not only can circulating testosterone and its more potent metabolite readily cross the blood-brain barrier to access dopaminergic neurons, but local synthesis can raise androgens in specific brain areas as well.

If testosterone propels men to seek status, research into the theoretical frameworks of neuroeconomics might improve our understanding of gender-specific social behaviors. Psychometrics behind behavioral tests provide a glimpse into the multi-dimensional neurobehavioral labyrinth. The gamut of structural and functional endpoints affected by testosterone is further broadened when testosterone metabolism is considered. Future studies should probe deeper into the role of testosterone metabolism in reward-based behavior of status seeking. Approaching this challenge will only be feasible using noninvasive body fluids, such as saliva or urine, and testing them for hormones like testosterone and its metabolites by state-of-the-art mass spectrometry developed at ZRT Laboratory and used in the recently reported study [4].

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References 

[1] C. Eisenegger, M. Naef, R. Snozzi, M. Heinrichs, E. Fehr, Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour, Nature 463(7279) (2010) 356-9.

[2] J. van Honk, E.R. Montoya, P.A. Bos, M. van Vugt, D. Terburg, New evidence on testosterone and cooperation, Nature 485(7399) (2012) E4-5; discussion E5-6.

[3] M. Wibral, T. Dohmen, D. Klingmuller, B. Weber, A. Falk, Testosterone administration reduces lying in men, PLoS One 7(10) (2012) e46774.

[4] G. Nave, A. Nadler, D. Dubois, D. Zava, C. Camerer, H. Plassmann, Single-dose testosterone administration increases men's preference for status goods, Nat Commun 9(1) (2018) 2433.

[5] P.H. Mehta, R.A. Josephs, Testosterone change after losing predicts the decision to compete again, Horm. Behav 50(5) (12/2006) 684-692

[6] P.A. Brennan, M.K. Herd, R. Puxeddu, R. Anand, L. Cascarini, J.S. Brown, C.M. Avery, R.T. Woodwards, D.A. Mitchell, Serum testosterone levels in surgeons during major head and neck cancer surgery: a suppositional study, Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg 49(3) (2011) 190-3.

[7] D.J. Tobiansky, K.G. Wallin-Miller, S.B. Floresco, R.I. Wood, K.K. Soma, Androgen Regulation of the Mesocorticolimbic System and Executive Function, Front Endocrinol (Lausanne) 9 (2018) 279.

[8] T.D. Purves-Tyson, S.J. Owens, K.L. Double, R. Desai, D.J. Handelsman, C.S. Weickert, Testosterone induces molecular changes in dopamine signaling pathway molecules in the adolescent male rat nigrostriatal pathway, PLoS One 9(3) (2014) e91151.

Tagged in: Testosterone Research