xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#'. The Digibandit: Brain Chemistry - Testosterone and Evolution + Babes

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brain Chemistry - Testosterone and Evolution + Babes

PSYCHOLOGY

His Cheating Brain

Why do powerful men risk everything for sex? It has to do with brain chemistry, evolution and, yes, testosterone.


Alpha males are high on testosterone, the hormone that underlies almost all the typical traits of the politico-sexual animal: high levels of testosterone make for a high sex drive, a love of risks, aggressiveness and competitiveness. "These people have a strong need to win at games, which is obviously important in power politics," says Zuckerman. Success sends their testosterone spiraling up, while a loss brings the levels down—a phenomenon that's been documented in the lab as well as in athletes and chess champions.

Women's testosterone levels also rise when there's competition on the line, but the actual act of winning—or, for that matter, losing—doesn't have any effect on the levels either way. It's the game, not the outcome, that makes the difference for women. Success, then, may not set them off-balance the same way. Evolutionary psychology also suggests that women leaders wouldn't be as likely as men to get caught in sex scandals. "Men and women play different roles in reproduction, so I don't think that you'd see the same kind of pattern where high-status women would be more likely to seek out lots and lots of men," says Daniel Kruger, a research scientist at the University of Michigan who has studied risk-taking behavior. "That's not going to really benefit them that much because they're limited in the number of children they could have." Men, on the other hand, have more of a biological imperative to spread their genes far and wide--the kind of privilege that often comes with being an alpha male.

Hungry for Power. Not everyone wants to be a high-profile politician. It takes, among other things, supreme confidence—the kind that may shade into egocentrism and lead to downfall. "For high-profile offices—we're not talking about the school board, but mayors, governors, senators, some members of Congress and the presidency—you have to have a kind of personality where you are very interested in yourself and your personal needs, as well as the needs of others," says John Gastil, a University of Washington political scientist. "When the gratification of your desire for social change becomes the justification for so much of what you do in your career, it's not a leap to then say, 'Well, my other desires and needs are equally justified.' You come up with elaborate justifications. 'Hey, 23 hours day I'm working hard for the people of New York. Time for a little me time!'"

Ironically, that kind of confidence is part of what appeals to voters. "We love charismatic people, the 'micro-messiahs'," says Gastil. "We favor the candidates who are already concerned with projecting certainty and power and strength—and we cultivate those characteristics in people. We want a little bit of that sense that these people are special and different. Does that go to their heads? Of course it does."

And then power has its own corrosive effects. A person who seeks out power may already be compromised. But once he's got that power, he may be tempted beyond anything he's experienced before. "We sometimes say, 'God, what do these people think, the rules don't apply to them?' Well, that's often true. They really do live in a different world from most of us," says Gastil. "Spitzer apparently had access to a service where you pay top dollar for exclusivity and discretion—one that most people don't have access to. Probably your average philanderer doesn't know such a company even exists." Remember the explanation Bill Clinton gave for his cheating: "I did something for the worst possible reason—just because I could."

As the saying goes, power is also an aphrodisiac—and that's been true, says Kruger, as long as humans have been around. "In our evolutionary history, men who had lots of resources and status and power were able to have more than one partner. Your body is basically saying if you have this power, you should use it, because that's what has worked before," he says. "Even in modern history, whether you're talking about medieval kings or sultans or rock stars, quite a few have multiple partners. So you're not so surprised to see this dynamic in politics today."

He Thinks He's Invincible. Bloggers and commenters have been floating the idea that Spitzer was subconsiously hoping to be caught. But that, at least, is one negative trait that psychologists hesitate to ascribe to him. "The idea of a death wish, that he was self-destructive—I don't think there's a shred of reason to believe that," says Farley.

Instead, the opposite may be true: not only was Spitzer hoping to get away with something, he honestly thought he'd be able to. "It does have an element of Greek tragedy to it. There's a certain amount of hubris that goes with getting to the top," says Gladue. "You think you're invincible. You just don't think it could happen to you." Until, of course, it does.

But basically it all boils down to "Hot Chicks" - oooweeee!