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Prenatal testosterone and sexually differentiated childhood play preferences: A meta-analysis of amniotic fluid studies

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gareth RichardsORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Sexually differentiated behaviour appears to emerge from a complex interaction of biological and socio-cultural factors, with prenatal exposure to steroid hormones such as testosterone thought to play a key role. Due to large sex differences being present from a very early age, much research has focussed on the influence these hormones may have on play preferences during childhood. We present an overview of the literature and a random-effects meta-analysis linking amniotic testosterone with sexually differentiated play preferences (k = 9, n = 493). The overall effect size estimate was in the theory-consistent direction (i.e., with higher levels of testosterone associated with more male-typical play preferences), though not statistically significant (r = 0.082, p = 0.274). However, after three hypothesised missing studies were imputed via the trim and fill procedure, a significant correlation emerged (r = 0.166, p = 0.014). Nevertheless, one sample was observed to exert a particularly large influence on the outcome of the analysis. Notably this had the second biggest sample as well as the largest effect size. Though far from conclusive, the overall findings are consistent with the idea that individual differences in prenatal testosterone within the typical range predict sexually differentiated play preferences in early life. However, these effects may be small in magnitude and appear to vary considerably across studies.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Richards G, Browne WV

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Current Psychology

Year: 2022

Pages: Epub ahead of print

Online publication date: 17/01/2022

Acceptance date: 07/10/2021

Date deposited: 13/10/2021

ISSN (print): 1046-1310

ISSN (electronic): 1936-4733

Publisher: Springer Nature


DOI: 10.1007/s12144-021-02386-z


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