The Bull and the Bear have long been abstract symbols for trends on Wall Street.
But it seems they’re not so abstract after all.
The bull as a symbol of raging power, the bear as a symbol of depression (think ‘bear with a sore head’).
John Coates had been a Wall Street trader for ten years before he studied neuroscience.
He was fascinated by the almost bi-polar behaviour amongst stock-market traders.
In a boom, they were euphoric and manic, buying and selling millions of dollars.
In a crash, they were so depressed they were barely able to pick up the phone.
He was fascinated the way massive highs in the market seemed to alternate irrationally with dramatic lows.
Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, put it this way: “How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected prolonged contractions?”
The key word here being “irrational”.
What worried the most powerful financial brain on the planet was that these swings were beyond anyone’s understanding or control.
This fascinated John Coates throughout his studies.
What he found was surprising.
We think we’re governed by our brains, but our brains are governed by chemicals.
The two main chemicals being testosterone and cortisol.
Both of which exaggerate behaviour, irrationally.
Put simply, testosterone makes the strong stronger, and cortisol makes the weak weaker.
Testosterone is produced in large amounts amongst traders when the market is rising and profits are being made: a bull market.
Testosterone increases our desire for risk taking, for dominance and success.
So traders become exuberant, high on risk.
Cortisol is the opposite, it is about risk avoidance, survival.
Cortisol gives a feeling of inaction, paralysis, which makes a crash worse: a bear market.
As Coates said: “Economists assumed that all behaviour was conscious and rational, they were ignoring the fact that signals from the body, both chemical and electrical, affect how we take risks.”
Which leads to an interesting point.
Women produce around 10% of the amount of testosterone that men do.
So they are only one tenth as prone to mood swings, during trading, as men are.
Which is why Coates’ figures show, over the long term, women perform better than men.
They have smaller booms, but smaller and fewer losses, they have less up-and-downs.
They are more stable.
If that’s true, what could it mean for us?
Well it might be useful in considering how we balance the staff in our agency.
Who is it best to hire for management, new-business, finance, planning, media, production, traffic, creative?
Depending on the client, the brand, the product, the audience, the media, the budget.
Of course, we don’t want to just hire one kind of person, that would be rigid and inflexible.
Like a football team, we don’t want all of one sort of player.
We need to be flexible enough for different solutions in different situations.
We need to put a squad together, not just a team.
But it’s as well to know who might perform better, where, and when, and why.
Isn’t that what any good coach, or manager, or CEO, or ECD would want to know?