Post-game testosterone levels of individuals in team-based status games are affected by genetic makeup, gender, and winning versus losing
Testosterone, a steroid hormone, affects the ability of the prefrontal cortex to regulate the limbic system and therefore has been implicated in a wide range of social behaviors such as facing status challenges, aggression and dominance. Here we use a team-based status game to examine factors that determine the post-game testosterone (T) levels of participants who were on the winning or losing team in a status game. We focused on functional polymorphisms in two candidate genes, namely DRD4 and COMT because these genes are densely expressed in the prefrontal cortex and thus affect peoples’ self-regulation ability. Being on the winning team does not automatically lead to higher post-game T levels. Post-game T levels were affected by pre-game T level and genetic makeup of the DRD4 gene variants for male and COMT gene variants for female participants, respectively. These findings remain robust when we controlled for contextual variables related to game play. Such insights, based on genetic markers, might motivate researchers in neuro-economics to look closer at neuro-biological mechanisms, specifically the prefrontal-limbic connectivity that modifies when people engage in status games.