Prenatal testosterone does not affect spatial ability

The university research group headed by Yulia Kovas, Professor of TSU and Goldsmiths, University of London, found out that prenatal testosterone did not explain differences in male and female spatial abilities. The article with this research was published in Scientific Reports.

Mental abilities do not depend on gender, but the spatial ability is an exception. It was demonstrated, that in most cases males are superior to female in tasks for spatial thinking.

The research group, headed by Yulia Kovas (International Centre for Research in Human Development, TSU), found out whether the prenatal testosterone can explain this advantage. Particularly, due to the effect of a twin brother's testosterone on a twin sister during pregnancy.

- As expected, our study demonstrated the superiority of males in all 14 spatial units of measurement, used in the experiment – says Teemu Toyvainen, one of the major authors and a PhD student of Goldsmiths, University of London. However, we did not find any pieces of evidence that elevated level of prenatal testosterone, obtained by a twin sister from a twin brother, affects spatial abilities.

Measuring the level of testosterone in an amniotic fluid is risky, thus the team applied natural schemes to evaluate the effect of elevated level of prenatal testosterone on spatial abilities. Previous studies examined test subjects with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a genetic disease leading to excessive testosterone production in females. In this project, the research team compared the indicators of spatial ability in twin pairs, boy-girl and girl-girl.

The experiment results laid a foundation for further research in this area. Professor Yulia Kovas underlines:

-  The results demonstrated that attempting to answer the question about gender differences in spatial ability we should focus on environmental factors.

To cast light upon a mechanism triggering gender differences in spatial ability, the team will consider issues related to learning process in general. Teemu Toyvainen adds that spatial ability important not only for pilots, architects, and designers but for many aspects of everyday life as well.

The Strategic Academic Unit – Institute of the Human of the Digital Era, including the International Centre for Research in Human Development, was established to provide with research, personnel and technological support of a transformation process of the human and society under transition to a new industrial pattern. It focuses on studying quality of life of a human and society in connection with the new industrial revolution which alters economic landscape (economy on demand), structure of society (digitalization, stratification, and inequality), and quality of life on the scale of the planets.