Winning To Win: Testosterone and the Momentum of our Wins

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Everybody likes to win, even if they are unwilling to admit it. While some may view winning to be arbitrary and unpredictable, Assistant Professor of Biology at Wake Forest University, Matthew Fuxjager, has discovered otherwise.

By tweaking the challenge hypothesis, which states that endogenous testosterone increases during periods of social instability, Fuxjager proposed the winner-challenge hypothesis. This hypothesis theorizes that post-victory contributes to the formation of the winner effect, an increased ability to win fights or social challenges following prior victories.

Essentially, Fuxjager is hypothesizing that animals who garner a lot of past wins will have a higher chance of winning in the future because of an increase in their testosterone level.

Fuxjager first conducted an experiment to test how much past wins and post-victory testosterone factored into future wins. California mice were utilized and grouped into four test groups (wins plus testosterone, wins plus saline, handles plus testosterone, and handles plus saline). The groups labeled with “wins” had previous winning experience while those labeled as “handles” had none. The mice were then subjected to a test encounter to see whether they would win or lose.

After data was collected, the California mice who had past wins and received a testosterone injection displayed a 100% winner effect, while the mice who either had past wins or the testosterone injection only exhibited an intermediate winner effect. The last group, with neither past wins nor a testosterone injection, showed a minimal winner effect.

The data brings light into the phenomenon behind why winners keep winning. It seems as though our bodies are wired to build immunity to losing and to increase the momentum of winning.

Yet, it should be understood that the ability to win in future conflicts is further complicated by factors beyond mere past wins and post-victory testosterone.

Other factors in winning include residency and the amount of androgen receptors in the brain. Interestingly, the winner effect was stronger when the California mice won at home. Having previous winning experiences in their home cage brought the winner effect to 100%, while having previous winning experience in an unfamiliar cage decreased the winner effect to 40%.

Also tied to residency, the amount of androgen receptors increases if wins occur at home. Specifically, androgen receptors increase in the NAcc, BST, and UTA areas of the brain, which reinforce properties of aggression. Fuxjager found a positive association with the neural androgen sensitivity with the winning effect.

A relatable example of the winner-challenge effect for humans can be seen in the stock trades. Statistically, people who take risks and win are more likely to take risks in the future. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) exemplifies the winner-challenge effect: the main character, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), continues to take illegal risks even after making a big fortune.

With further analysis of the winner-challenge hypothesis, it may even be possible to create a perfect formula for winning. Yet, even with this formula, it seems difficult to imagine what it means to win without the possibility of losing.

Featured image courtesy of www.joylot.com.

David Chan

David, some know him by his nickname DJ, is a sophomore from the Bay Area. He has plans to major in film and media studies and to minor in English Literature. He enjoys swimming and traveling to different places. Because fall is the season when new and returning TV shows premiere, he will spend a lot of his free time during fall semester watching all of his favorite shows, which include American Horror Story, Scream Queens, and How to Get Away with Murder.

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