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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Jun;104:49-54. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.02.014. Epub 2019 Feb 15.

Prenatal testosterone exposure is associated with delay of gratification and attention problems/overactive behavior in 3-year-old boys.

Author information

1
Institute of Experimental Psychology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany. Universitätsstraße 1, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany. Electronic address: Lisa.Koerner@hhu.de.
2
Institute of Experimental Psychology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany. Universitätsstraße 1, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.
3
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University Hospital Basel and University of Basel, Hebelstrasse 2, CH-4031 Basel, Switzerland; Division of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, International Psychoanalytic University Berlin, Stromstrasse 1, D-10555 Berlin, Germany; Division of Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology, Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 60/62, CH-4055 Basel, Switzerland.
4
Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry, Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland. Missionsstrasse 60/62, CH-4055 Basel, Switzerland.
5
Prenatal Medicine and Genetics, Düsseldorf, Germany. Graf-Adolf-Straße 35, D-40210 Düsseldorf, Germany.
6
Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France. 11 rue Humann, F-67085 Strasbourg Cedex, France.
7
Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France. 11 rue Humann, F-67085 Strasbourg Cedex, France; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Strasbourg Regional University Hospital, Strasbourg BP 426, 67091, France.
8
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Strasbourg Regional University Hospital, Strasbourg BP 426, 67091, France; ICube UMR 7357, University of Strasbourg/CNRS, Federation of Translational Medicine, Strasbourg, France.

Abstract

Sex differences in self-control become apparent during preschool years. Girls are better able to delay their gratification and show less attention problems and overactive behavior than boys. In this context, organizational effects of gonadal steroids affecting the neural circuitry underlying self-control could be responsible for these early sex differences. In the present study testosterone levels measured in amniotic fluid (via ultra performance liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry) were used to examine the role of organizational sex hormones on self-control. One hundred and twenty-two 40-month-old children participated in a delay of gratification task (DoG task) and their parents reported on their attention problems and overactive behavior. Girls waited significantly longer for their preferred reward than boys, and significantly more girls than boys waited the maximum period of time, providing evidence for sex differences in delay of gratification. Boys that were rated as suffering from more attention problems and overactive behavior waited significantly shorter in the DoG task. Amniotic testosterone measures were reliable in boys only. Most importantly, boys who waited shorter in the DoG task and boys who were reported to suffer from more attention problems and overactive behavior had higher prenatal testosterone levels. These findings extend our knowledge concerning organizational effects of testosterone on the brain circuitry underlying self-control in boys, and are of relevance for understanding how sex differences in behavioral disorders are connected with a lack of self-control.

KEYWORDS:

Amniocentesis; Attention problems; Delay of gratification; Overactive behavior; Prenatal testosterone; Self-control; Sex differences

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