Hormones and the herd

Posted by on Oct 13, 2008 in Uncategorized | One Comment


Been meaning to post on this for a while but, well….

Ex-trader John Coates is now a research fellow at Cambridge. His piece a few weeks ago highlights the changing levels of cortisol in financial traders' bodies and the prevalence of these in

Interesting that one should be able to measure this and reassuring that there is some kind of biochemistry behind the social ape's behaviour. And even that hormones are another possible herd-medium for interpersonal communication (like vision and sound etc)

BUT….(wait for it)…

Reducing behaviour to biochemistry and link this to causality at the same time seems to be a false step.

Individuals' behaviour is shaped by what they sense of others around them (to include hormones now)

Biochemical changes are likely to part of the mechanics behind any change in behaviour (even though whether cortisol is involved in everything is moot)

BUT the cause is what is sensed around the individual, not the hormones themselves

Hormones are just biochemical substances produced in one kind of cell that influences the function of other cells. Not wizardry…or bad things

[Q. is this an example of a. reductionist fallacy various b. whatever can be measured becoming important (cognitive scientists have loved cortisol because it is so measurable) c. the desire to blame bad things on something/anything d. some other mistake I haven't spotted?]

1 Comment

  1. Justin
    October 13, 2008

    To use big words, cortisol has an effect on the reactive behavioural constraints and sensitivity on those receptive to environmental stimuli.
    In other words nervous stressed traders will be more sensitive to social cues and their reactions to those cues may be more extreme than if they were less stressed. It’s all closed loop stuff though. It’s analogous to a herd of sheep grazing on the sugar loaf (Llandovery), they’ve just gotten over being rattled by a passing biker giving it some beans. Then when one gets slightly startled by a vole making a dash for the hedge all the other stressed sheep think “Lion!!!” and leg it.
    I seem to remember some research into trading behaviour and the consumption of Bolivian marching powder in the city. Cocaine for those who’ve led sheltered lives.