Administration of a single dose of the hormone testosterone increased men’s preference for brands perceived to have a high status compared to those of similar quality but lower status, reports a study of 243 men published this week in Nature Communications.
In this study, Gideon Nave and colleagues took inspiration from the fact that males of many animal species show increased levels of testosterone during the breeding season. The hormone seems to drive males to engage in conspicuous displays of status, such as courtship singing in birds, and the growth of antlers in stags.
Reasoning that testosterone might also encourage status displays in humans, the authors recruited 243 male volunteers (aged 18 to 55) and gave half of them a dose of testosterone, in the form of a gel. The other half received an inert placebo gel. The participants were then presented with pairs of brand-name products (such as jeans), which were perceived to be of similar quality but of different status. For each pair, the participants were asked to indicate which of the two brands they preferred.
The results showed that men given testosterone were more likely to prefer high status brands, over quality, but lower-status alternatives. This effect of testosterone was especially large when the products were accompanied by advert-style text promoting the products as status-enhancers.
The authors note that future research should be directed towards replicating these findings in other populations.