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Proc Biol Sci. 2019 Sep 11;286(1910):20191062. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.1062. Epub 2019 Sep 4.

Does testosterone impair men's cognitive empathy? Evidence from two large-scale randomized controlled trials.

Author information

1
BFI, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
2
Department of the Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 E California Boulevard, MC 228-77, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.
3
ZRT Laboratory, 8605 SW Creekside Place, Beaverton, OR 97008, USA.
4
Department of Psychology, Nipissing University, 100 College Drive, North Bay, Ontario, Canada P1B 8L7.
5
Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6.
6
Marketing Department, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 3730 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.

Abstract

The capacity to infer others' mental states (known as 'mind reading' and 'cognitive empathy') is essential for social interactions across species, and its impairment characterizes psychopathological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Previous studies reported that testosterone administration impaired cognitive empathy in healthy humans, and that a putative biomarker of prenatal testosterone exposure (finger digit ratios) moderated the effect. However, empirical support for the relationship has relied on small sample studies with mixed evidence. We investigate the reliability and generalizability of the relationship in two large-scale double-blind placebo-controlled experiments in young men (n = 243 and n = 400), using two different testosterone administration protocols. We find no evidence that cognitive empathy is impaired by testosterone administration or associated with digit ratios. With an unprecedented combined sample size, these results counter current theories and previous high-profile reports, and demonstrate that previous investigations of this topic have been statistically underpowered.

KEYWORDS:

cognitive empathy; mind reading; pharmacology; prenatal priming; steroid hormones; testosterone

PMID:
31480979
PMCID:
PMC6742992
[Available on 2020-09-11]
DOI:
10.1098/rspb.2019.1062

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