Competing Sexes, Power, and Testosterone: How Winning and Losing Affect People's Empathic Responses and What this Means for Organisations


  • The authors worked equally on this article, although the conceptual model originates from the first author's doctoral dissertation. Funding for this research came from the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (dossier # 135286). We also thank Oliver Schultheiss, Simon Bacon, Marylène Gagné, Michel Cossette, Tracy Hecht, Ronald Ferguson, Kaspar Schattke, Christina Gianoulakis, and Anja Schiepe-Tiska for their valuable suggestions during the development and/or revision of this article, as well as the anonymous reviewers from APIR for their extensive feedback. We also thank Onur Bodur and Bianca Grohmann of Concordia University's Centre for Multidisciplinary Behavioral Business Research and the Laboratory for Sensory Research, respectively, for supporting their researchers with training workshops and state-of-the art facilities.


We introduce a biopsychosocial model to explain how men's and women's testosterone fluctuations ensuing from winning and losing status in intrasexual competitions affect their proactive and reactive aggression, as well as their accuracy at assessing others’ emotions (empathic accuracy) and anxiety at witnessing others’ pain (personal distress). We also propose that their empathic responses depend on the extent to which they are driven by a need to influence other people (implicit power motivation). To our knowledge, this is among the first articles to offer a comprehensive investigation of the physiological and psychological effects that competitive outcomes have on individuals' empathic responses. Given that competition is ubiquitous in organisational life, we sensitise practitioners to its effect on empathy in the workplace and give recommendations on how they could foster a healthy work environment. Finally, to encourage scholars along this research avenue, we provide concrete suggestions for empirically testing our model and advise them to probe other hormones, as well as other empathic responses and non-hormonal mechanisms that may assist in further explaining the competition–empathy link.