Sexual differentiation of human behavior: effects of prenatal and pubertal organizational hormones

  • Berenbaum S
  • Beltz A
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A key question concerns the extent to which sexual differentiation of human behavior is influenced by sex hormones present during sensitive periods of development (organizational effects), as occurs in other mammalian species. The most important sensitive period has been considered to be prenatal, but there is increasing attention to puberty as another organizational period, with the possibility of decreasing sensitivity to sex hormones across the pubertal transition. In this paper, we review evidence that sex hormones present during the prenatal and pubertal periods produce permanent changes to behavior. There is good evidence that exposure to high levels of androgens during prenatal development results in masculinization of activity and occupational interests, sexual orientation, and some spatial abilities; prenatal androgens have a smaller effect on gender identity, and there is insufficient information about androgen effects on sex-linked behavior problems. There is little good evidence regarding long-lasting behavioral effects of pubertal hormones, but there is some suggestion that they influence gender identity and perhaps some sex-linked forms of psychopathology, and there are many opportunities to study this issue.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital/*physiopathology
  • Androgens/pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Brain/drug effects/growth & development
  • Cognition
  • Critical Period (Psychology)
  • Disorders of Sex Development/physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones/pharmacology
  • Hormones/*pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects/*physiopathology
  • Psychosexual Development/*drug effects
  • Puberty/drug effects/*physiology
  • Sex Differentiation/*drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior/*drug effects

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  • S A Berenbaum

  • A M Beltz

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