These Two Hormones Divide Winners From Losers. By Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield
Sometimes winning can be as dangerous as losing. Take James Altucher, blogger, podcaster, provocateur and occasional Observer contributor. Rewind to 1998 when Altucher had just sold Reset Inc., his web-design business, for $10 million. With his windfall he set out on a mission to teach the stock market a lesson. His first trade? As he told us, he “poured all of his money” into a software company, the name of which he no longer remembers. But he does remember this: In one hour he made a cool million. That jackpot was proof of Altucher’s genius. And he was primed to keep at it, going mano a mano against the market to make another million dollars every day for the rest of his life.
That’s what winning a million dollars in an hour does to you: it makes you cocky, confident and ready to go balls out.
That’s what winning a million dollars in an hour does to you: it makes you cocky, confident and ready to go balls out. Winning is biological, even hormonal. Dozens of researchers have studied the biological effects of what actually happens to people when they win—tennis players who beat their opponents, chess masters who checkmate their rivals and traders who outwit the markets. Spoiler alert: It’s testosterone—the hormone with a reputation for turning sweet young boys into hairy-chested, pugilistic, sex-crazed macho men. But there’s much more to testosterone than that.
Biologists have a name for the testosterone-infused mentality that perpetuates a cycle of victory upon victory: the “winner effect.” And it works like this. Two animals square off for a fight. Whether they are cichlid fish, rhesus monkeys or humans, their T levels rise, re-orienting their biological systems for the battle by increasing their strength, quickening their reaction times and reducing their fear. Then they go at it. And here’s where it gets interesting: The T levels of the winners spike, sometimes by as much as 1,000 percent. And the losers? Their T levels plummet by just as much. The next time the two face off, the winner, primed with testosterone, is much more likely to win. And the loser to lose.