The Trouble with Testosterone

Overly macho guys are sometimes ridiculed as suffering from "testosterone poisoning." Sure, it's only a joke, but the phrase may ring all too true for some men who work at stressful jobs. Consider the nine engineers who in 1995 began working for a southern firm that services oil fields. Researchers at Georgia State University measured the new workers' testosterone levels, then tracked the trajectory of their budding careers. Only nine months later, four of the five men with the highest levels of the hormone had quit or been fired. But the four recruits with low levels were all still gainfully employed.

The reason? "High-testosterone men react negatively to frustration and challenges," explains Georgia State University psychologist James Dabbs, Ph.D. So the engineering job--which required tolling long, lonely hours in isolated locales, not to mention being on call 24 hours a day--was perhaps not the ideal career choice for a guy teeming with testosterone, suggest Dabbs and Georgia State graduate student Colleen Heusel.

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Other studies have shown that actors and football players boast higher testosterone levels than, for example, ministers. Does this mean that help-wanted ads of the twenty-first century will read something like: "Must have 3+ years experience, strong references, and serum testosterone levels between 30 and 50mug/dl"? Dabbs doesn't believe things will go that far. But given the cost of hiring and training employees, he does suggest that companies might take extra precautions to ensure that people with less-than-ideal hormonal profiles find satisfaction at work.

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