The winner effect


June 11, 2013

Robert Genn



In good times and bad it looks like 10% of the galleries do 90% of the business. Similarly, 10% of the artists sell 90% of the art. With the number of folks taking up painting these days and the volume of artists graduating from art schools, this figure may be closer to 1%. In comparison to some other professions, it's pretty depressing. Mind you, there are not a lot of amateur gynecologists hanging up their shingles and offering their services.


Recent studies have indicated what biologists and sociologists are calling "the winner effect." This is where those who do well tend to continue to do well. It's along the lines of "nothing succeeds like success."


In studies by John Coates of Cambridge University, stockbrokers and investment dealers were examined. It seems that brokers who did well with their clients' portfolios tended to continue to do better than the average. While active, committed traders with strong track records did the best job, there was also evidence of high testosterone levels.


In other studies, testosterone seemed to provide "winning streaks" that often occurred about ten in the morning. Funnily, I've always noted this is a hot hour for my painting, but I never thought to connect it with hormones.


Of further interest, male brokers took more risks and traded more often than their female associates. It was also the men who got into the most trouble--witness infamous stock traders like Bernie Madoff and the London Whale. As well as further courage being generated after periods of successful trading, men became the most daring after having had a string of losses. Heeding this last observation, some big firms are temporarily suspending brokers' licenses after they sustain 3% in losses.


Another interesting finding in these studies was that women brokers did just as well for their clients as male brokers. They also traded less often and were apparently more cautious and thoughtful. Women brokers didn't appear to have those knee-jerk reactions that some researchers think are spurred by testosterone. Women were also more inclined to take advice from advisors and experts. I'm not sure, but I don't think there are any female felons in the investment world. I may be na´ve and gravely limited in my research, but I also know of no female felons in the art world. 


Best regards,




PS: "In men coming off a winning streak, there's an endocrine system on fire." (John Coates) 


Esoterica: Rana Foroohar in Time magazine recently noted, "Animals that win one fight are more likely to win another, as the winner enjoys higher testosterone levels, which provide an edge in subsequent battles." She must be talking about alpha males. Do women artists benefit from similar endocrine blasts? I don't think so. Most women artists I know are cautious, thoughtful, open-minded, deeply sensitive and gentle souls, eager only to steadily fulfill their artistic vision. Big success and mass bamboozlement are seldom priorities. Bite me if I'm wrong.