Not all men are like that, of course, but the ones who are tend to reach decisions and charge forward, blind to dissenting opinions or conflicting facts.
There are few things worse at work than a man who is certain he is right.
Not all men are like that, of course, but the ones who are tend to reach decisions and charge forward, blind to dissenting opinions or conflicting facts. And that often leads to trouble. Or failure. And to others taking the blame.
Women aren’t immune to such behavior, but it’s far more rare. Look at your own experiences in the workplace over the years and tell me I’m wrong.
So the question is: Why do some men make rash decisions with unwavering certitude?
My intention here is not to bash men — I happen to be one — or to lavish praise on women. It’s to stress that, for both men and women, it seems reasonable to examine the traits and tendencies that can lead to success or failure.
If I’ve done nothing else in this column over the years — aside from declare myself America’s most-beloved workplace advice columnist and express my love of ice cream — I hope I’ve stressed the importance of self-reflection.
So let’s consider a new study that unravels a bit of the mystery behind male decision-making.
A group of researchers administered a test to 243 men. Some of the men were given a testosterone gel and some a placebo, and then they had to take what’s called a cognitive reflection test.
The test was designed to measure each subject’s ability to answer a question in a reflective manner. The intuitive answers to the questions were incorrect, as each required some careful thought.
Here’s an example: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
The intuitive answer is that the ball costs 10 cents. The ball actually costs 5 cents — the bat is $1.00 more than the ball, so the bat costs $1.05 and the total cost of the two is $1.10.
The study, which will be published in a future issue of the journal Psychological Science, found that men who received testosterone were more likely to make mistakes, answering 20 percent fewer questions correctly. That group also gave wrong answers faster than the placebo group while taking longer than the placebo group to arrive at a correct answer.
This is just one study, something the researchers themselves highlight, but as written in their report, the findings “demonstrate a clear and robust causal effect of T on human cognition and decision-making.” The “T” is for “testosterone.”
I would expect a lot of women out there are reading this and thinking, “Yeah, no kidding.” And that’s certainly a reasonable thing to think.
But I hope there are men reading this — possibly some of the millions of men prescribed testosterone replacement therapy, which the study notes is more than a $2 billion-a-year industry — and considering the science behind decision-making.
Study co-author Amos Nadler, an assistant professor of finance at Western University’s Ivey Business School, said this of testosterone replacement: “Many, many people are taking it, and when we ran an experiment before this one in 2013 that tested the impact of testosterone on financial traders, we were able to show that giving them testosterone created these large price bubbles that were pretty dramatic. Testosterone drove bubbles crazily high, and then they crashed dramatically.”
Nadler continued: “There are risks associated with people taking it. It’s not clear to the user that it’s affecting their thinking. None of the people in our experiments could tell which group they were in or whether something was impacting their decision-making.”
Lead author Gideon Nave, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said hormones “clearly influence decision-making.”
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Testosterone exists for a reason, and it can benefit workers when snap decisions are necessary.
“In many situations, going with our gut is going to be very helpful and help you solve the problem,” Nave said. “It depends on the situation you’re in. The most important thing is to just have the information and know that it may have an influence. Once you’re aware of that, you can make an informed decision on your own.”
Nave and Nadler, on the spot, asked me a cognitive reflection test question.
There is a pond that has lily pads growing in it, and each day there are twice as many lily pads as the day before. On day 48, the pond is completely filled with lily pads. On which day was it half-full of lily pads?
The intuitive response is to say it was half-full on day 24, since 24 is half of 48. But the answer is day 47 — the lily pads double each day, so the pond had to go from half-full to completely full in one day.
I nailed the correct answer on the first try and have submerged myself in testosterone gel since that day. Now if they asked me again I would likely shout, “24! THE ANSWER IS ABSOLUTELY 24!!” and then rip a phone book in half.
The point here is everyone, regardless of gender, would be wise to consider that many things drive our decision-making, from hormones to our environment to the cultures of our individual workplaces.
A bit of self-reflection can help when those big, important decisions come along. Better to think twice and act than to think once and screw up.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at email@example.com.