Peregrine flight

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Audience effect

 Does excess testosterone help foster anti-social tendencies in males? Interesting study.

An experimental study conducted on healthy young men found that applying 150 mg of testosterone gel to their upper arms eliminated their strategic prosocial behavior, which is the tendency to act more prosocially when observed by others. The paper was published in Neuropsychopharmacology.

Prosocial behavior refers to voluntary actions that are intended to benefit or help others, often without direct personal gain. It encompasses a wide range of activities, such as sharing, comforting, rescuing, and cooperating. It is motivated by empathy, moral principles, or a desire to comply with social norms. Prosocial behavior plays a crucial role in fostering positive social interactions, strengthening community bonds, and promoting social harmony. It is considered a fundamental aspect of human social life and is generally encouraged and rewarded in various cultural, educational, and organizational settings. However, humans often exhibit more prosocial behavior when they are observed by others. This phenomenon, demonstrated across various social behaviors including blood donations and charitable contributions, is known as the audience effect. From an evolutionary perspective, making one’s generosity visible to others is beneficial as it signals that the person is a valuable group member with good qualities as a potential partner.

I wrote a blog post on a similar phenomenon in primates a few years ago. I will have to try to find it but  if I remember correctly the researchers surmised that an evolutionary hurdle was broached when beta males formed social contracts to blunt the power of some bullying alpha males whose behavior was deemed contrary to the best goals and health of the clan.


Found it, Constraining the aggressive alpha male.

Imagine early hominid life as a tense balance of power between alpha males (and an ally or two) and the larger set of males who are shut out of power. Then arm everyone with spears. The balance of power is likely to shift when physical strength no longer decides the outcome of every fight. That’s essentially what happened, Boehm suggests, as our ancestors developed better weapons for hunting and butchering.

Once early humans had developed spears, Haidt continues, anyone could kill a bullying alpha male. And if you add the ability to communicate with language and note that every human society uses language to gossip about moral violations, then it becomes easy to see how early humans developed the ability to unite in order to shame, ostracize, or kill anyone whose behavior threatened or simply annoyed the rest of the group.

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