Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 571–581 | Cite as

Effects of Fetal Testosterone on Visuospatial Ability

  • Bonnie AuyeungEmail author
  • Rebecca Knickmeyer
  • Emma Ashwin
  • Kevin Taylor
  • Gerald Hackett
  • Simon Baron-Cohen
Original Paper


This study investigated whether fetal testosterone (FT) measured from second trimester amniotic fluid was related to specific aspects of visuospatial ability, in children aged 7–10 years (35 boys, 29 girls). A series of tasks were used: the children’s Embedded Figures Test (EFT) (a test of attention to detail), a ball targeting task (measuring hand-eye coordination), and a computerized mental rotation task (measuring rotational ability). FT was a significant predictor for EFT scores in both boys and girls, with boys also showing a clear advantage for this task. No significant sex differences were observed in targeting. Boys scored higher than girls on mental rotation. However, no significant relationships were observed between FT and targeting or mental rotation. Girls’ performance on the mental rotation and targeting tasks was significantly related to age, indicating that these tasks may have been too difficult for the younger children. These results indicate that FT has a significant role in some aspects of cognitive development but that further work is needed to understand its effect on the different aspects of visuospatial ability.


Spatial ability Mental rotation Sex differences Fetal testosterone 



This work was supported by grants to SBC from the MRC and the Nancy Lurie-Marks Family Foundation. BA was supported by a scholarship from Trinity College, Cambridge. We are grateful to the families who have taken part in this longitudinal study over many years, and to Melissa Hines, Greg Davis, and Ieuan Hughes for valuable discussions. This study was conducted in association with the NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bonnie Auyeung
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rebecca Knickmeyer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Emma Ashwin
    • 1
  • Kevin Taylor
    • 3
  • Gerald Hackett
    • 4
  • Simon Baron-Cohen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of Clinical BiochemistryAddenbrooke’s HospitalCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Department of Foetal MedicineRosie Maternity HospitalCambridgeUK

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