A new angle on mental rotation ability in transgender men: Modulation by ovarian milieu

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2022 Jul;141:105751. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2022.105751. Epub 2022 Mar 27.


Organizational/activational theory posits that transgender individuals should perform in the direction of their gender, not their sex, on cognitive tasks that show sex differences-the largest of which are observed on visuospatial tasks. Yet, tests of this hypothesis have been mixed for transgender men (TM). One possible reason is that performance shifts associated with the hormonal milieu at testing have not been fully considered in TM. Although "activating" influences, like gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT), are well-characterized in this population, endogenous ones, like ovarian cycling, have gone unaddressed. To provide a more complete picture of hormonal activation, we explored an influence of ovarian milieu on visuospatial performance of TM, and its potential contributions toward effects of sex and GAHT. We administered two male-favoring mental rotation tests (MRTs), and a sex-neutral control task to 22 TM naïve to GAHT (TM-), 29 TM receiving GAHT (TM+), and cisgender men (CM; n = 24) and women (CW; n = 43), testing cycling men (TM-) and women (CW) in either early follicular phase (Follicular) or midluteal phase (Luteal). On MRTs, performance of TM- varied across the menstrual cycle, and matched that of menstrual phase-matched CW. Additionally, cycling individuals in Follicular performed as strongly as TM+ and CM, all of whom performed above individuals in Luteal. Effects did not extend to a verbal control task, on which TM+ performed below others. Rather than conforming to static categories that suggest sex- or gender-typical organization of cognitive circuits, our findings support dynamic shifts in visuospatial ability of TM, and illustrate the need to consider activating effects of hormones beyond GAHT.

Keywords: Gender-affirming hormone therapy; Logical memory; Menstrual cycle; Mental rotation; Sex differences; Transgender.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Hormones
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Transgender Persons*
  • Transsexualism*


  • Hormones