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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 22;108(8):3448-52. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1011891108. Epub 2011 Feb 7.

Testosterone administration impairs cognitive empathy in women depending on second-to-fourth digit ratio.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, 3584 CS, Utrecht The Netherlands.

Erratum in

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jul 9;110(28):1660-1.


During social interactions we automatically infer motives, intentions, and feelings from bodily cues of others, especially from the eye region of their faces. This cognitive empathic ability is one of the most important components of social intelligence, and is essential for effective social interaction. Females on average outperform males in this cognitive empathy, and the male sex hormone testosterone is thought to be involved. Testosterone may not only down-regulate social intelligence organizationally, by affecting fetal brain development, but also activationally, by its current effects on the brain. Here, we show that administration of testosterone in 16 young women led to a significant impairment in their cognitive empathy, and that this effect is powerfully predicted by a proxy of fetal testosterone: the right-hand second digit-to-fourth digit ratio. Our data thus not only demonstrate down-regulatory effects of current testosterone on cognitive empathy, but also suggest these are preprogrammed by the very same hormone prenatally. These findings have importance for our understanding of the psychobiology of human social intelligence.

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