Prenatal androgen exposure and children's aggressive behavior and activity level.

Hormones and Behavior
Volume 96, November 2017, Pages 156-165

Prenatal androgen exposure and children’s aggressive behavior and activity level.

Horm Behav. 2017 Nov;96:156-165

Authors: Spencer D, Pasterski V, Neufeld S, Glover V, O'Connor TG, Hindmarsh PC, Hughes IA, Acerini CL, Hines M


  • Prenatal androgen exposure linked to aggression but not activity in girls with CAH
  • Sex differences in aggression and activity found in healthy children
  • Amniotic fluid testosterone unrelated to aggression or activity in healthy sample
  • Amniotic fluid testosterone may not be an adequate measure for these outcomes


Some human behaviors, including aggression and activity level, differ on average for males and females. Here we report findings from two studies investigating possible relations between prenatal androgen and children's aggression and activity level. For study 1, aggression and activity level scores for 43 girls and 38 boys, aged 4 to 11years, with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH, a genetic condition causing increased adrenal androgen production beginning prenatally) were compared to those of similarly-aged, unaffected relatives (41 girls, 31 boys). Girls with CAH scored higher on aggression than unaffected girls, d=0.69, and unaffected boys scored higher on activity level than unaffected girls, d=0.50. No other group differences were significant. For study 2, the relationship of amniotic fluid testosterone to aggression and activity level was investigated in typically-developing children (48 girls, 44 boys), aged 3 to 5years. Boys scored higher than girls on aggression, d=0.41, and activity level, d=0.50. However, amniotic fluid testosterone was not a significant predictor of aggression or activity level for either sex. The results of the two studies provide some support for an influence of prenatal androgen exposure on children's aggressive behavior, but not activity level. The within-sex variation in amniotic fluid testosterone may not be sufficient to allow reliable assessment of relations to aggression or activity level.