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

Gareth Richards*, Tess Beking, Baudewijntje P C Kreukels, Reint H Geuze, Alan A Beaton, Ton Groothuis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104929
Number of pages13
JournalHormones and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2021


  • Amniotic Fluid
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Testosterone

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