Can Exposure to Prenatal Sex Hormones (2D:4D) Predict Cognitive Reflection?

Authors: Antoni Bosch-Domènech, Pablo Brañas-Garza and Antonio M. Espín

Psychoneuroendocrinology, Vol. 43, 1--10, January, 2014

The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) is a test introduced by Frederick (2005). The task is designed to measure the tendency to override an intuitive response that is incorrect and to engage in further reflection that leads to the correct response. The consistent sex differences in CRT performance may suggest a role for prenatal sex hormones. A now widely studied putative marker for relative prenatal testosterone is the second-to-fourth digit ratio (2D:4D). This paper tests to what extent 2D:4D, as a proxy for the prenatal ratio of testosterone/estrogens, can predict CRT scores in a sample of 623 students. After controlling for sex, we observe that a lower 2D:4D (reflecting a relative higher exposure to testosterone) is significantly associated with a higher number of correct answers. The result holds for both hands’ 2D:4Ds. In addition, the effect appears to be stronger for females than for males. We also control for patience and math proficiency, which are significantly related to performance in the CRT. But the effect of 2D:4D on performance in CRT is not reduced with these controls, implying that these variables are not mediating the relationship between digit ratio and CRT.

This paper originally appeared as Barcelona GSE Working Paper 698