Effects of testosterone administration on strategic gambling in poker play


Testosterone has been associated with economically egoistic and materialistic behaviors, but -defensibly driven by reputable status seeking- also with economically fair, generous and cooperative behaviors. Problematically, social status and economic resources are inextricably intertwined in humans, thus testosterone’s primal motives are concealed. We critically addressed this issue by performing a placebo-controlled single-dose testosterone administration in young women, who played a game of bluff poker wherein concerns for status and resources collide. The profit-maximizing strategy in this game is to mislead the other players by bluffing randomly (independent of strength of the hand), thus also when holding very poor cards (cold bluffing). The profit-maximizing strategy also dictates the players in this poker game to never call the other players’ bluffs. For reputable-status seeking these materialistic strategies are disadvantageous; firstly, being caught cold bluffing damages one’s reputation by revealing deceptive intent, and secondly, not calling the other players’ bluffs signals submission in blindly tolerating deception. Here we show that testosterone administration in this game of bluff poker significantly reduces random bluffing, as well as cold bluffing, while significantly increasing calling. Our data suggest that testosterone in humans primarily motivates for reputable-status seeking, even when this elicits behaviors that are economically disadvantageous.

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