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Hormonal Differences

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:01pm

If you are anything like me and read the medical headlines every day you have probably noticed in the past few weeks a spate of articles about how hormones can affect a person’s social behavior.  The first such article was a timely piece, considering the state of the economy, that argues that the length of a person’s ring finger in relation to his or her index finger is indicative of his or her responsiveness to testosterone in the womb, and thus this measure correlates with how well the person is suited to financial trading. (Oddly, the Washington Post categorizes this article under “Women’s Health.”)

Specifically, these researchers say, the longer one’s ring finger in relation to the index finger the more likely it is that this person will be successful at financial trading.  Scientists are hailing this as “completely new and novel in terms of showing how sex hormones impact the brain.”  (Though there have been other studies that argue that sex hormones in the womb influence sexual orientation and anorexia.)  The trials performed in this study only examined men.  While it is possible that this effect also influences such behavior in women, it is unlikely to affect women as often as men since women naturally have less testosterone than men.

However, another article came out on the heels of this study arguing that higher amounts of estrogen (as an effect from the womb) cause women to not only feel more attractive and be perceived as more attractive but also to cheat on their partners more often.  The study showed that women with high levels of estradiol, a type of estrogen, were more likely to “dress more provocatively and show more thrill-seeking behavior.”  Interestingly, the likelihood of cheating on a partner was shown to take the form of monogamous affairs rather than one-night stands.  These women with higher estradiol are generally more fertile and therefore are hypothesized to biologically be programmed to continually look for other, better mates.  One of the researchers said, “Our results are consistent with the possibility that highly fertile women are not easily satisfied by their long-term partners and are especially motivated to become acquainted with other, presumably more desirable, men.”

Prenatal hormones and their effects have been known for years to play a great role in sexual differentiation.  Levels of testosterone and other factors in the womb can contribute to an XY-karyotype (or genetic boy) being born as a phenotypical female (with the appearance of female genitalia).  Research is constantly discovering more along these lines, such as the perceived psychological differences between males and females (i. e., men are from Mars, women are from Venus), including cognitive performance.  In light of these discoveries, many people cling to the notion that many of these naturally occurring situations are, rather, a result of nurture (e. g., a woman who cheats on her partner does so because of the way she was reared).

So, what do you think about all of this?  I would love to hear any or all questions or comments.  Thanks!

 

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