Prenatal androgen exposure alters girls’ responses to information indicating gender-appropriate behaviour.
Individual variability in human gender-related behaviour is influenced by many factors, including androgen exposure prenatally, as well as self-socialization and socialization by others postnatally. Many studies have looked at these types of influences in isolation, but little is known about how they work together. Here, we report that girls exposed to high concentrations of androgens prenatally, because they have the genetic condition congenital adrenal hyperplasia, show changes in processes related to self-socialization of gender-related behaviour. Specifically, they are less responsive than other girls to information that particular objects are for girls and they show reduced imitation of female models choosing particular objects. These findings suggest that prenatal androgen exposure may influence subsequent gender-related behaviours, including object (toy) choices, in part by changing processes involved in the self-socialization of gendered behaviour, rather than only by inducing permanent changes in the brain during early development. In addition, the findings suggest that some of the behavioural effects of prenatal androgen exposure might be subject to alteration by postnatal socialization processes. The findings also suggest a previously unknown influence of early androgen exposure on later processes involved in self-socialization of gender-related behaviour, and thus expand understanding of the developmental systems regulating human gender development.