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An examination of the influence of prenatal sex hormones on handedness: Literature review and amniotic fluid data

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gareth RichardsORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Competing theories have posited roles for foetal androgen exposure in the development of human handedness. However, due to practical and ethical considerations, few studies have used hormonal measures to examine this possibility. The current paper reviews this literature and reveals a generally inconsistent pattern of results. We also present data from a longitudinal study of prenatal sex hormone exposure and subsequent handedness. More specifically, we examine correlations between testosterone and estradiol measured from second trimester amniotic fluid and hand preference (Dutch language version of the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory) and hand skill asymmetry (pegboard task) measured at 15 years of age. Prenatal sex hormone exposure was not associated with the direction of hand preference in either males or females. However, in females, high levels of prenatal testosterone were associated with weaker lateralisation of hand skill, and high levels of prenatal estradiol were associated with weaker hand preference. In addition, high levels of prenatal testosterone were associated with increased task duration (i.e., slow hand speed) for the right and left hands of males. The pattern of results observed here is not entirely consistent with any of the main theories linking sex hormones with handedness, suggesting that an association between these variables may be more complex than initially thought.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Richards G, Beking T, Kreukels B, Geuze R, Beaton AA, Groothuis T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Hormones and Behavior

Year: 2020

Volume: 129

Print publication date: 01/03/2021

Online publication date: 20/01/2021

Acceptance date: 31/12/2020

Date deposited: 31/12/2020

ISSN (print): 0018-506X

ISSN (electronic): 1095-6867

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2021.104929


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