It seems that everything that comes out of Simon Baron-Cohen’s lab is more interesting than the last. This study, hot off the e-press, shows that levels of testosterone in the fetus can predict how certain parts of the brain respond to faces years later.
These guys measured testosterone in amniotic fluid around 13-20 weeks gestation and then had the Herculean task of following up 25 of the boys aged 8-11 years (as a fellow longitudinal researcher, I can tell you that their RAs probably put in some long hours to do this!). The boys at this age that had higher levels of testosterone when they were fetuses showed more response in the reward system of the brain when viewing happy faces compared to fearful faces. The authors suggested that early levels of testosterone might help some parts of the brain develop with a bias towards pleasant, or happy, information. I think it’s amazing that work is being done to show how prenatal factors can influence people’s neurological and emotional processes so much later in life.
The study is available publicly through Open Access here. Anyone interested in some of Baron-Cohen’s other work on fetal testosterone, autism, and his theory of the “extreme male brain” should check out his website.