Human behavioral sex differences: a role for gonadal hormones during early development?

Psychol Bull. 1995 Jul;118(1):55-107. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.118.1.55.


Evidence that gonadal hormones during prenatal and neonatal development influence behavior is reviewed. Several theoretical models of hormonal influences, derived from research in other species, are described. These models are evaluated on the basis of data from humans with either normal or abnormal hormonal exposure. It is concluded that the evidence is insufficient to determine which model best explains the data. Sexual differentiation may involve several dimensions, and different models may apply to different behaviors. Gonadal hormones appear to influence development of some human behaviors that show sex differences. The evidence is strongest for childhood play behavior and is relatively strong for sexual orientation and tendencies toward aggression. Also, high levels of hormones do not enhance intelligence, although a minimum level may be needed for optimal development of some cognitive processes. Directions for future research are proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Sex Differentiation / physiology*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones