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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.

Original publication

DOI

10.1073/pnas.1011891108

Type

Journal article

Journal

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date

22/02/2011

Volume

108

Pages

3448 - 3452

Keywords

Brain, Cognition, Empathy, Female, Fingers, Humans, Interpersonal Relations, Male, Pregnancy, Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects, Testosterone