Sexual differentiation of cognitive abilities in prenatally DES-exposed women

Hormones and behavior, 1996

Study Abstract

In nonhuman animals, prenatal exposure to androgens or estrogens enhances development of male-typical characteristics (masculinizes) and impairs development of female-typical characteristics (defeminizes).

Sexual differentiation of cognitive abilities in women exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) prenatally, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Hormones and behavior, NCBI PubMed PMID: 9047262, 1996 Dec.

Cognitive dissonance image credit curioustangles.

We investigated the hypothesis that prenatal exposure to the synthetic estrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES), similarly masculinizes or defeminizes cognitive development in women.

Forty-two DES-exposed women and 26 of their unexposed sisters were studied. No group differences were seen for abilities at which females excel on average (verbal fluency, perceptual speed and accuracy, and associative memory), for abilities at which males excel on average (visuospatial abilities), or for abilities that do not show sex differences (vocabulary, nonverbal intelligence). The time of prenatal exposure to DES correlated with visuospatial performance with later exposure associated with better performance. However, the subgroup of women exposed to DES late in gestation did not differ from unexposed women on these measures.

Results support the conclusion that prenatal exposure to DES has little or no influence on cognitive development in women. However, they do not preclude other types of early hormonal influences on human cognition, such as prenatal influences of androgen or influences of androgens or estrogens during the early postnatal period.

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