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A Nature Research Journal

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Single-dose testosterone administration increases men’s preference for status goods

Article | Open | Published:

, Articlenumber: 2433 ( 2018 ) | Download Citation

In modern human cultures where social hierarchies are ubiquitous, people typically signal their hierarchical position through consumption of positional goods—goods that convey one’s social position, such as luxury products. Building on animal research and early correlational human studies linking the sex steroid hormone testosterone with hierarchical social interactions, we investigate the influence of testosterone on men’s preferences for positional goods. Using a placebo-controlled experiment ( = 243) to measure individuals’ desire for status brands and products, we find that administering testosterone increases men’s preference for status brands, compared to brands of similar perceived quality but lower perceived status. Furthermore, testosterone increases positive attitudes toward positional goods when they are described as status-enhancing, but not when they are described as power-enhancing or high in quality. Our results provide novel causal evidence for the biological roots of men’s preferences for status, bridging decades of animal behavioral studies with contemporary consumer research.

From schools of fish to modern human communities, social hierarchies are ubiquitous across species. Hierarchies give rise to advantages at the group level, such as facilitating leader–follower coordination and reducing resource conflict. At the individual level, higher social rank improves mating opportunities, promotes access to resources, reduces stress, and increases social influence. Therefore, individuals exert considerable effort to enhance their social rank by gaining status (i.e., respect and admiration from others, sometimes also referred to as prestige) and power (i.e., control over valuable resources, sometimes also referred to as dominance).

How do people achieve higher status? In early human societies, displays of hunting skills and physical aggression were primary in promoting one’s standing in society. In contemporary settings, however, hunting and aggression have been replaced by different strategies, such as displays of culturally valued skills and behaviors (e.g., obtaining academic degrees). Another prevalent route to higher status rests on the display of wealth through positional consumption. This idea was introduced by Thorstein Veblen’s seminal work, , which describes how wasteful expenditures on positional goods, which display one’s apparent resources to others, shape the social strata over time. Such goods are particularly effective signals of status because they separate the “haves” from the “have nots” through economic (e.g., high price) or physical (e.g., restricted access for private club members) barriers. Although Veblen’s insights were overlooked by classical market theories, modern economic theories began to incorporate this view by showing that a balance of prices and goods sustains the market for costly signals. Indeed, goods that wealthier individuals gravitate toward (hereafter, “positional goods”) also tend to be more visible to others than other goods that are more affordable and thus accessible to everyone.

Understanding the drivers of costly signaling through positional consumption is important because this behavior is, by definition, wasteful—in the sense that less expensive goods could have the same functional value as their high-status counterparts (e.g., cars and houses). Status consumption therefore creates inefficiencies. Spending resources to elevate perceived status might, for instance, perpetuate poverty by reducing self-investment in health and education among the poor, who spend disproportionately more on status signals and thus substitute status signaled through consumption for long-run wealth accumulation. While recent work has explored the socio-psychological antecedents of status-driven consumption, little is known about its biological basis, via genes, hormones, or brain activity.

An analogy to human conspicuous consumption in animal behavior lies in the “handicap principle” of the evolutionary theory of sexual selection. Many species undergo adaptations that wastefully consume physiological resources without yielding immediate survival benefits, such as the stag’s heavy antlers and the peacock’s vivid train. The handicap principle explains these adaptations as costly signals of male fitness: because only the fittest can afford to waste resources on traits that do not directly increase survival probability, these adaptations become reliable indicators of fitness. Moreover, given that the proximal purpose of such adaptations is to promote the spread of genes by increasing attractiveness to mates, these traits must be displayed conspicuously—hence the length of the stag’s antlers and iridescence of the peacock’s tail.

The male sex steroid hormone testosterone (T) is associated with a range of male reproductive and social behaviors in non-human and human species. In non-humans, individual differences in T levels have been linked to social rank, and a context-sensitive rise of T during the breeding season is associated with conspicuous displays of costly signals, such as complex courtship singing in male birds and the growth of bulky antlers in stags.

In humans, too, T levels can situationally increase in contexts related to social rank and male reproductive behavior, e.g., during competitions and after winning them, in the presence of an attractive mate, and even following acts of conspicuous consumption, such as driving a sports car (vs. a family sedan). While early human studies (conducted mainly among prisoners) reported correlations between T and aggression, subsequent research has proposed that T does not increase aggression per se, but rather the motivation to promote one’s status. These studies (conducted in both males and females) showed that pharmacologically elevated T increased generosity, cooperation, and honesty, all of which are pro-social non-aggressive behaviors that may promote one’s status. Other studies further reported intriguing correlations between the 2D:4D digit ratio, a candidate proxy of prenatal testosterone exposure (though see ref. ), and behavioral measures of courtship-related consumption (a relation that was not evident in our own data).

Building on Veblen’s theory of positional consumption, as well as the evidence that a situational increase in T leads to rank-promoting behaviors in animals and humans, we hypothesized that elevated T levels would cause men to exhibit stronger preference toward goods that promote their social rank. To test this hypothesis, we randomly administered either T ( = 125) or placebo ( = 118) topical gel to 243 males, following a double-blind administration protocol. The sample size was maximized according to the study’s budget constraints.

Participants completed two tasks. In the first task, we showed participants pairs of apparel brands that differed in their associations with social rank and asked them to indicate their preferences for one or the other. The second task investigated whether T influenced attitudes toward the same goods when they were positioned differently. Specifically, we measured participants’ attitudes toward products that were positioned either as status-enhancing, power-enhancing, or high in quality.

The results confirmed our hypothesis: we found that participants who received T showed greater preference for brands that were associated with higher social rank (task 1), and that T increased positive attitudes toward goods that were positioned as status-enhancing but not those positioned as power-enhancing or high in quality (task 2). We thus conclude that T elevates men’s desire to promote their social status through economic consumption.

To monitor the levels of T and other hormones that might influence decision making during the experiment (e.g., cortisol) , participants provided one pre-treatment saliva sample (that also allowed us to investigate the correlation between behavior and basal T) and three post-treatment saliva samples, that were assayed by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). We observed elevated post-treatment saliva T measurements in the T group compared to the placebo group, providing a robust manipulation check (see Fig.). Therewere notreatment effectson the levels of hormones that were not expected to be influenced by it (Supplementary Table) or mood (Supplementary Table)

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Blog Recruiting HR

By Joe Matar

So many hires, so little time. Fuel your team’s rapid growth with these nine no-fail hiring tenets.

Isn’t it easy to find great people to hire?

If your answer to that was a resounding “NO” (or even a healthy guffaw), then you’ll relate to our struggles here at CLEARLINK . Over this past year, we’ve hired over 50 new digital marketers and at the rate we’re growing, we’ll hire another 50 next year. That’s a lot of job postings written, applications read, and interviews given.

With so many hires in so little time, we’ve learned a thing or two about streamlining the hiring process. In the hopes of saving you some sweat and tears, here’s the 9-step hiring process we now swear by:

1. Involve Team Leaders From the Get-Go

Team leaders need to be accountable for finding and hiring top talent onto their teams. Period. Recruiters and HR departments should support their efforts — but when you lead a team, the buck stops with you.

Once your company’s leaders accept this fact, their mindset should change from passive to active. Rather than sitting back and waiting for candidates to come their way, leaders should be active participants in the hiring process. Encourage leaders to schedule some time each day to do something—anything—to fill the open role(s) on their teams.

You need a clear vision of what you’re looking for before you start the hiring process. If you are the least bit unclear on what the role will entail, stop what you are doing and devote whatever time is necessary to find clarity.

The worst possible thing you can do is post a job that has not been clearly defined. A clearly-defined role helps you identify better candidates and hire people who are a good fit for your team in terms of experience, skillsets, and culture. Knowing what you need will help you find it faster (and without wasting your team’s limited time).

Once you have clearly defined the role you are looking to fill, it is important to review the job description you will post to attract candidates. Avoid simply posting the same job description as the last hire, because your needs have probably changed. Better yet — encourage the team managers to help write job descriptions from scratch, including details that would excite someone.

When writing your job descriptions, do your best to avoid industry jargon and business speak. Inject some humanity! Even better, really think through the core requirements of the job. Are you sure you need someone with a college degree to do the work, or will you accept someone with equivalent work experience instead? Do you really need someone with a marketing degree, or would you accept someone with a mass communications degree?

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