The various excerpts that follow contain research findings and journalistic commentary that inform the issues discussed occasionally among a small group of humanists in the Bay Area. We are interested in how man-made places reveal the ways that varying values and norms stemming from changing environmental conditions interact with ( i.e., shape or are shaped by) our genetic heritage.
The Higher the Testosterone, the Harder to Cooperate
ScienceDaily (Jan. 31, 2012) — Testosterone
makes us overvalue our own opinions at the expense of cooperation, research
from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College
London) has found. The findings may have implications for how group decisions
are affected by dominant individuals.
Problem solving in groups can
provide benefits over individual decisions as we are able to share our
information and expertise. However, there is a tension between cooperation and
self-orientated behaviour: although groups might benefit from a collective
intelligence, collaborating too closely can lead to an uncritical groupthink,
ending in decisions that are bad for all.
Attempts to understand the
biological mechanisms behind group decision making have tended to focus on the
factors that promote cooperation, and research has shown that people given a
boost of the hormone oxytocin tend to be cooperative. Now, in a study recently
published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B,
researchers have shown that the hormone testosterone has the opposite effect --
it makes people act less cooperatively and more egocentrically.
Dr Nick Wright and colleagues at
the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL carried out a series of tests
using 17 pairs of female volunteers* who had previously never met. The test
took place over two days, spaced a week apart. On one of the days, both
volunteers in each pair were given a testosterone supplement; on the other day,
they were given a placebo.
During the experiment, both women
sat in the same room and viewed their own screen. Both individuals saw exactly
the same thing. First, in each trial they were shown two images, one of which
contained a high-contrast target -- and their job was to decide individually
which image contained the target.
If their individual choices
agreed, they received feedback and moved on to the next trial. However, if they
disagreed, they were asked to collaborate and discuss with their partner to
reach a joint decision. One of the pair then input this joint decision.
The researchers found that, as
expected, cooperation enabled the group to perform much better than the
individuals alone when individuals had received only the placebo.
But, when given a testosterone
supplement, the benefit of cooperation was markedly reduced. In fact, higher
levels of testosterone were associated with individuals behaving egocentrically
and deciding in favour of their own selection over their partner's.
"When we are making decisions
in groups, we tread a fine line between cooperation and self-interest: too much
cooperation and we may never get our way, but if we are too self-orientated, we
are likely to ignore people who have real insight," explains Dr Wright.
"Our behaviour seems to be
moderated by our hormones -- we already know that oxytocin can make us more
cooperative, but if this were the only hormone acting on our decision-making in
groups, this would make our decisions very skewed. We have shown that, in fact,
testosterone also affects our decisions, by making us more egotistical.
"Most of the time, this
allows us to seek the best solution to a problem, but sometimes, too much
testosterone can help blind us to other people's views. This can be very
significant when we are talking about a dominant individual trying to assert
his or her opinion in, say, a jury."
Testosterone is implicated in a
variety of social behaviours. For example, in chimpanzees, levels of
testosterone rise ahead of a confrontation or a fight. In female prisoners,
studies have found that higher levels of testosterone correlate with increased
antisocial behaviour and higher aggression. Researchers believe that such
findings reflect a more general role for testosterone in increasing the
motivation to dominate others and increase egocentricity.
Commenting on the findings, Dr
John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Trust, said:
"Cooperating with others has obvious advantages for sharing skills and
experience, but we know it doesn't always work, particularly if one alpha male
or alpha female dominates the decision making. This result helps us understand
at a hormonal level the factors that can disrupt our attempts to work
The Wellcome Trust funded this
*Testosterone is naturally
secreted in men and women, and testosterone levels are correlated with
important behaviours (e.g. antisocial behaviour) in both men and women. For the
size of dose given experimentally, in women this markedly increases their
testosterone from its low baseline level. In men, however, the situation is
more complicated: men already have high baseline levels of testosterone, so
giving such doses will decrease their own production of testosterone, a
feedback effect that will act to offset the increase caused by the treatment
itself. The researchers therefore used female subjects because giving standard
experimental doses causes a straightforward and well-characterised increase in
their testosterone levels.
Rather than try to tackle complex national and international issues and institutions that affect the entire U.S. , we concentrate on place based trends and academic research that more directly reflect our everyday experiences in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and other closer connections. We seek to grapple with ideas that stem from and have immediate implications for our personal ties and intellectual enjoyment. We deal with those grassroots issues not to influence public policy or resolve differences but to gain an understanding of the way of the world-- in order to sort out the chaos and thereby increase our pleasure as identified by Epicurus. We start from the premise that changing the body politic at the state and national level is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens of the 21st century in the way that the power structure was able to do at the start of the 20th century, when American Progressivism was imbued with a strong reformist optimism. “I propose that we lead”…
Excerpted from: Solving The African IQ Conundrum : "Winning Personality" Masks Low Scores By J. Philippe Rushton VDare August 12, 2004
Over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton initiated research into individual and race differences in intelligence and temperament. He was the first to propose the study of human twins and of selective breeding in animals to disentangle the effects of heredity and environment. And it was Galton—who spent several years exploring in what is now Namibia as a young man—who first contrasted the talkative impulsivity of Africans with the taciturn reserve of American Indians, and the placidity of the Chinese.
Galton further noted that these temperament differences persisted irrespective of climate (from the frozen north through the torrid equator), and religion, language, or political system (whether self-ruled or governed by the Spanish, Portuguese, English or French).
Anticipating later studies of transracial adoptions, Galton observed that the majority of …
Does a strategy of opposing traits explain humanity’s success? By ALISON GOPNIK July 16, 2015 11:20 a.m. ET 10 COMMENTS Walk into any preschool classroom and you’ll see that some 4-year-olds are always getting into fights—while others seldom do, no matter the provocation. Even siblings can differ dramatically—remember Cain and Abel. Is it nature or nurture that causes these deep differences in aggression? The new techniques of genomics—mapping an organism’s DNA and analyzing how it works—initially led people to think that we might find a gene for undesirable individual traits like aggression. But from an evolutionary point of view, the very idea that a gene can explain traits that vary so dramatically is paradoxical: If aggression is advantageous, why didn’t the gene for aggression spread more widely? If it’s harmful, why would the gene have survived at all?