Men and women with more testosterone like to be in charge. Indeed, they can find it stressful and uncomfortable when denied the status that they crave. Similarly, people low in testosterone find it uncomfortable to be placed in positions of authority. An intriguing new study has built on these earlier findings, showing a mismatch between testosterone-level and status is associated with group functioning. Groups made up of people whose status in the group doesn't match their testosterone level tend to have less collective confidence (or "collective efficacy" in the psychological jargon). This could be important given that prior investigations have shown that groups with higher collective efficacy perform better.
Michael Zyphur and colleagues assigned 92 groups of between 4 and 7 undergrads to an on-going task that involved meeting twice a week for 12 weeks, and included creating a professional management-training video. Six weeks into the project the researchers measured the participants' testosterone levels via saliva samples. They also asked all members in each group to vote on each others' status. Then six weeks after that, at the end of the project, the researchers measured each group's collective efficacy by summing members' confidence in their group's ability to succeed.
The key finding was that groups made up of members whose status was out of synch with their testosterone level tended to have the lowest collective efficacy. The researchers think that testosterone-status mismatch within a group probably has a detrimental effect on that group's collective confidence. However, another possibility, which they acknowledge, is that a lack of group confidence leads to a mismatch between testosterone levels and status among group members.
Co-author Jayanth Narayanan told the Digest that his team need to replicate their finding in a work setting. "Perhaps workplace settings might enhance these effects. Perhaps some types of work environments might attenuate these effects. These are open questions at this stage," he said.
Zyphur, M., Narayanan, J., Koh, G., & Koh, D. (2009). Testosterone–status mismatch lowers collective efficacy in groups: Evidence from a slope-as-predictor multilevel structural equation model. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 110 (2), 70-79 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2009.05.004
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.