Testosterone promotes either dominance or submissiveness in the Ultimatum Game depending on players' social rank

Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 13;7(1):5335. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-05603-7.


Endogenous testosterone promotes behaviours intended to enhance social dominance. However, recent research suggests that testosterone enhances strategic social behaviour rather than dominance seeking behaviour. This possibility has not been tested in a population whose members are known to vary in social status. Here, we explored the relationship between pre-existing social status and salivary testosterone level among members of a rugby team at a Japanese university, where a strong seniority norm maintains hierarchical relationships. Participants played a series of one-shot Ultimatum Games (UG) both as proposer and responder. Opponents were anonymised but of known seniority. We analysed participants' acquiescence (how much more they offered beyond the lowest offer they would accept). The results showed that, among the most senior participants, higher testosterone was associated with lower acquiescence. Conversely, higher testosterone among the lower-status participants was associated with higher acquiescence. Our results suggest that testosterone may enhance socially dominant behaviour among high-status persons, but strategic submission to seniority among lower-status persons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Students
  • Testosterone / analysis*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult


  • Testosterone