Study finds real-world business leadership is not related to testosterone levels

Research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that testosterone levels do not predict a person’s leadership position.

The researchers conducted a field study in which they compared basal testosterone levels with leadership style among 125 managers and regular employees from various companies in the Netherlands. The study found that high basal testosterone levels were associated with a more authoritarian leadership style, but only in non-managers.

The researchers also conducted a meta-analysis of 9 previous studies with 1,103 total participants that examined the relationship between testosterone and leadership. Both the field study and the meta-analysis found no association between high basal testosterone levels and leadership.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Leander van der Meij of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

We are fascinated by different forms of leadership and how they relate to our physiology. Of special interest to us was the hormone testosterone. Traditionally, this hormone has been linked to many negative behaviors such as dominance and aggression, and also forceful forms of leading such as dominant behaviors and authoritarian leadership. Yet, recent studies have also suggested that the link between testosterone and those negative behaviors are not so clear cut. Sometimes testosterone is related to positive social behaviors, such as telling the truth and paying attention to others.

The relative new idea is that the specific context determines if testosterone is related to these negative anti-social behaviors or not. If the context promotes social status by being forceful or authoritarian we would expect to find testosterone to be related to dominance. We wanted to test this idea in a sample of managers and non-managers.

What should the average person take away from your study?

That real-world leadership is frequently not related to dominance and testosterone levels.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

The main challenge is to identify if there are some contexts in which testosterone is related to leadership. Of special interests are contexts that require a quick response and unified action, like during war. Do army officers have elevated testosterone levels and does this relate to their leadership style?

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Our study shows that human behavior is complex and flexible. This means that one always has to take into account the context in which behavior occurs.

The study, “Basal testosterone, leadership and dominance: A field study and meta-analysis“, was also co-authored by Jaap Schaveling and Mark van Vugt.