Does Military Rank Affects Hormone Levels & Fairness in an Allocation Experiment?

Research Paper Title

Pulling Rank: Military Rank Affects Hormone Levels and Fairness in an Allocation Experiment.


Status within social hierarchies has great effects on the lives of socially organised mammals. Its effects on human behaviour and related physiology, however, is relatively little studied.


The present study investigated the impact of military rank on fairness and behavior in relation to salivary cortisol (C) and testosterone (T) levels in male soldiers.

For this purpose 180 members of the Austrian Armed Forces belonging to two distinct rank groups participated in two variations of a computer-based guard duty allocation experiment. The rank groups were:

  • Warrant officers (high rank, HR); and
  • Enlisted men (low rank, LR).

One soldier from each rank group participated in every experiment. At the beginning of the experiment, one participant was assigned to start standing guard and the other participant at rest. The participant who started at rest could choose if and when to relieve his fellow soldier and therefore had control over the experiment.

In order to trigger perception of unfair behaviour, an additional experiment was conducted which was manipulated by the experimenter. In the manipulated version both soldiers started in the standing guard position and were never relieved, believing that their opponent was at rest, not relieving them.

The aim of the researchers was to test whether unfair behaviour causes a physiological reaction. Saliva samples for hormone analysis were collected at regular intervals throughout the experiment.


The researchers found that in the un-manipulated setup high-ranking soldiers spent less time standing guard than lower ranking individuals. Rank was a significant predictor for C but not for T levels during the experiment. C levels in the HR group were higher than in the LR group. C levels were also elevated in the manipulated experiment compared to the un-manipulated experiment, especially in LR. The researchers assume that the elevated C levels in HR were caused by HR feeling their status challenged by the situation of having to negotiate with an individual of lower military rank. This would be in line with the observation that unequally shared duty favored HR in most cases.


The researchers conclude that social status, in the form of military rank affects fairness behaviour in social interaction and endocrine levels.


Siart, B., Pflüger, L.S. & Wallner, B. (2016) Pulling Rank: Military Rank Affects Hormone Levels and Fairness in an Allocation Experiment. Frontiers in Psychology. 7: 1750. Published online 2016 Nov 11. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01750.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.