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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1992;662:160-77.

The role of maternal stimulation in the development of sexual behavior and its neural basis.

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Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Boston 02125.


Both sexual differentiation, which is a matter of individual development, and sexual dissimilation, which is a matter of individual differences, result from developmental processes that are open to input from the early maternal environment. There are reliable features in both the dam and the young that ensure that males receive more perineal stimulation from maternal licking than is necessary for survival and normal growth. This stimulation contributes toward the development of masculine sexual behavior and mechanisms in the central nervous system that control copulatory reflexes. Because of differences in signals that they produce, males receive more stimulation than females. This bias in early stimulation accounts for some of the dissimilarity between the sexes in nervous system morphology and behavior. The same processes that produce sex differences can also produce individual differences among males. These differences are likely to have significant functional consequences in rats, a species in which males have a high level of intrasexual reproductive competition. Future research will be directed toward testing this functional hypothesis and toward exploring the extent of stimulative effects on the development of the sexually dimorphic brain regions that function in sexual behavior.

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