Beyond Pink and Blue: The Complexity of Early Androgen Effects on Gender Development

Child Dev Perspect. 2018 Mar;12(1):58-64. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12261. Epub 2017 Nov 1.


Why do girls and women differ from boys and men? Gender development is typically considered to result from socialization, but sex hormones present during sensitive periods of development, particularly prenatal androgens, play an important role. Data from natural experiments, especially from females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, show the complexity of the effects of androgens on behavior: Prenatal androgens apparently have large effects on interests and engagement in gendered activities; moderate effects on spatial abilities; and relatively small or no effects on gender identity, gender cognitions, and gendered peer involvement. These differential effects provide an opportunity to move beyond identifying sources of variation in behavior to understanding developmental processes. These processes include links among gendered characteristics, psychological and neural mechanisms underlying development, and the joint effects of biological predispositions and social experiences.

Keywords: gender development; peers; prenatal androgens.