Testosterone linked to entrepreneurial ambition

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THE desire to work for oneself is linked to higher testosterone levels, a research study at the Warwick Business School in the UK concluded.

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Nicos Nicolaou, Professor and Head of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group at Warwick Business School said that high levels of testosterone can give individuals the push they need to work for themselves.

“Using the most widely accepted methods available for measuring testosterone levels and analyzing three diverse samples, our findings indicate testosterone levels may constitute an important influence on the likelihood individuals will engage in self-employment,” Nicolaou explained in an email.

“The study also utilized a new research design involving opposite-sex and same-sex twins to contribute to the ongoing debate regarding the significance and validity of the relationship between testosterone and self-employment,” he added.

Nicolaou said the research was inspired by the ongoing debate over whether business behaviors are learned or can be at least partly attributed to biology.

“Our research shows it is indeed possible that at least a portion of certain business behaviors can at least in part be attributed to biological influences,” he said. “Our results represent an important first step into uncovering how key biological influences are related to self-employment and entrepreneurial activities.”

Three separate studies were conducted as part of the research. In the first, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) of 2011-2012 was analyzed, and found 2,146 observations that suggested a link between higher levels of testosterone and self-employment in males.

In the second study, Nicolaou examined the 2D:4D digit ratio—the ratio of the length of the index finger to the length of the ring finger, which is a common marker of prenatal testosterone exposure —to determine if there was a correlation to self-employment, surveying 449 males and 525 females.

The results indicated males with a lower 2D:4D ratio in their left hand, or higher prenatal testosterone exposure, have a significantly greater likelihood of self-employment. This was also found to be marginally significant for females.

The third study examined the twin testosterone transfer effect in a sample of opposite-sex and same-sex twins from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the US.

Nicolaou explained that previous studies have suggested that female fetuses gestated with a male twin are more likely than female fetuses gestated with a female twin to be “masculinized” in their development and to have greater testosterone levels. This is because testosterone may pass from one twin to the other through maternal circulation and by diffusion through fetal membranes.

Professor Nicolaou found that these females were more likely to be self-employed than females gestated with a female twin.

“The findings are relevant to both entrepreneurship and management audiences,” Nicolaou wrote in the research report, “Testosterone and Tendency to Engage in Self-employment,” which is to be published in an upcoming issue of Management Science.

“Higher levels of testosterone can not only enhance an individual’s willingness to take risks but also diminish the likelihood that they feel fear with regards to risky situations, when coupled together it is possible that individuals with higher levels of testosterone could be prone to engage in entrepreneurial activities and self-employment,” he explained.

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