When you think of 'manly men,' you might picture muscular, outdoorsy guys with grizzled beards. Fancy cars, expensive cologne and designer sweaters aren’t usually high on that list.
But maybe they should be. A new study shows that men with higher testosterone levels are more likely to want fancy things.
The study, which came out of the California Institute of Technology, shows that testosterone has a measurable effect on men’s preference for designer brands, or brands that are considered to be status symbols. That means that someone with a lot of testosterone in their system is more likely to want that $100,000 sports car, pair of Guess jeans or penthouse apartment.
The study examined the preferences of 243 male volunteers between 18 and 55 years old. Half of them got a placebo gel and half got a testosterone booster. Then, four hours later, they were asked to rate their preferences for certain brands of similar quality but different status.
They were also shown ads for items that emphasized luxury, power, or quality. When their testosterone was higher, men were also more likely to like the ads that emphasized luxury.
This sounds ridiculous, but the researchers claim that there is actually some scientific merit to the idea. In animals, testosterone causes aggression in the service of increased status. Basically, the feistier men get the girls.
In humans, that physical aggression has been replaced with a sort of consumer aggression. Men with high testosterone levels buy expensive things to show women that they can - even if that doesn’t impress us much.
"In our closest animal kin, males spend a lot of time and energy fighting to establish dominance. We do, too, but our weapons are what we wear, drive, and live in rather than claws, fists, and muscles," explained Colin Camerer - a professor of Behavioral Economics who was one of the study's lead authors.
He added that we also see evidence in the animal kingdoms of species expressing dominance through luxury instead of brute strength.
"If it didn't need to attract mates, a peacock would be better off without its tail," Camerer added. "It would be easier for the peacock to escape from predators and easier for it to find food if it wasn't carrying that tail around. In biology, that's known as costly signaling. A human male would probably be better off not spending $300,000 on a car but, by buying that car, he's showing people that he's wealthy enough that he can."