A Medication that Makes Men Less Trusting

In the Magazine
People at Fizz on East 55th street in Manhattan. Mark Peterson/Redux

It turns out that many men, shockingly, don’t have very good judgment—at least around attractive women. But thankfully researchers in Japan are at work on a solution to the problem, and according to a recent report, they may have identified a medication that can blunt the male urge to blindly trust the next pretty face.

The investigators gave minocycline (an antibiotic that’s been around since the early 1970s) or a placebo to 98 young men and then involved them in a simple game. Each man received 1,300 yen (about $13) and was told that he could give as much or as little of the money as he wanted to someone in the next room. And then the men were shown a photo of the mysterious “someone” next door, invariably an attractive young woman. Those receiving the placebo, investigators found, gave the money away freely—and the more attractive the woman’s face, the more money the men parted with. However, those on the antibiotic held their wallets close and proved every bit as stingy and distrustful as someone looking at an unsexy picture or no picture at all. As the authors wrote, a “sober” decision was reached, possibly because the drug acted by “reducing noise and other factors” such as “personality and arousal,” which can influence the decision-making process.

Thus science appears ready to help men inhibit their most base instincts. It’s a victory, maybe, especially for guys looking to avoid what the study refers to as, citing spy movies, the “honey trap.” But there’s also a larger issue at play here, not about the male sex drive but, rather, regarding medications. Some drugs, like minocycline, have side effects that can be utilized for an entirely different medical indication. For example, amantadine, once used to prevent influenza, was found to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. And Viagra started out as a blood-pressure pill. In other words, medications can have effects—some good and some not so good—far different from their intended uses. Which should serve as a reminder that with drugs, as with interpersonal trust, a little caution is always a good thing.

Kent Sepkowitz is an infectious-disease expert in New York City.

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