On the Science of Changing Sex

Testosterone Poisoning Real?

Posted in Female-to-Male by Kay Brown on April 30, 2017

critical-thinkingHow T Makes Men Dysrational

Back in the early ’90s when I was staying home from work because of some bug, I recall watching daytime reruns of really dumb shows. I chanced upon a silly sitcom for ‘tweens where one of the plot elements was a math problem which was supposed to be challenging for the middle school students. It was a classic dual rate problem: How long it would take two boys washing cars if they did the next car together instead of separately.  As I was bored, I set up and solved the simple (to me) algebra problem during the next commercial break. I looked forward to seeing that I was correct.  As the show progressed, the kids were becoming more and more agitated that no one could solve it, not even the stereotypical “brain” of the class.  Only the stereotypical airhead girl (obnoxious portrayals) seemed to be immune.  At the climax of the show, no one has solved it, but the airhead… who states, “It can’t be solved.”  “Right!” the math teacher concurs.  WTF!?!?!  I think.  The “brain’s” head explodes.

I was dumbfounded.  I checked my work.  No, I could easily solve it.  No, it didn’t take a genius.  It was a very straight forward bit of algebra any first year high school algebra student could solve.   How could the writers, producers, stage crew, and actors not know this?  What the &^%$#@! were they doing telling their young audience; that it couldn’t be solved?

This episode (pun intended) stuck in my mind.  I couldn’t understand it until I learned of the phenomena of Dysrationalia, researched by Keith Stanovich.  It was a revelation.  But I never thought this topic would find it’s way to my blog here, not being related to trans issues (save perhaps as one possible explanation for the irrational denial of the two type taxonomy).  But, here it is…

High testosterone levels increase dysrationality.  Seriously.

In a recent study, healthy men were randomly given T gel or placebo gel to apply to their skin.  Hours later, their plasma T levels had doubled.  They then took on a series of cognitive tests buried within them were three “trick questions” that measure “Cognitive Reflection”, a subset of the Stanovich’s original seven dysrationality questions.  These three questions, mathematical in nature, are extremely easy, deceptively easy, in that unless one slows down and thinks, one will all to easily try to use irrational mental shortcuts that get the wrong answers.  The key to being rational is that another part of the brain double checks one’s thinking to spot this and says to one’s self, “hey, hold on, that type of thinking is flawed.”

The results were dramatic.  Those who had been given T got 20% more wrong answers than those given the placebo.  The difference was quite robust ( Cohen’s d=0.41 ).  High T levels seem to reduce the ability of the brain to spot irrational thinking processes.

This has implications for transmen as they begin and continue hormone replacement therapy (HRT) using testosterone, as transient high levels of T occur.  Transmen should be counseled on this phenomena and given cognitive tools to compensate.

Researchers should also look at the effects of androgen suppression in transwomen.  Does this effect go in reverse?  Does low T make one less prone to cognitive reflection errors?

Further Reading:

Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking That IQ Tests Miss


Nave, Gideon and Nadler, Amos and Zava, David and Camerer, Colin (2017) Single dose testosterone administration impairs cognitive reflection in men. Psychological Science . ISSN 0956-7976 .   http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20170428-091020875


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