New research published in Heliyon explores the relationship between prenatal testosterone exposure and psychopathic personality traits. The findings indicate that there is a connection between prenatal testosterone exposure and increased egocentricity among men, but not among women. These results add to the current knowledge on the impact of prenatal testosterone exposure on the development of different aspects of psychopathy.
Psychopathy is a cluster of personality traits associated with antisocial and violent behavior. Research suggests that both environmental and biological factors, such as hormones, can contribute to the development of psychopathic traits.
Previous research had suggested that hormonal influences, including testosterone, could contribute to the development of psychopathic traits. In their new study, Katherine Perez and colleagues sought to expand upon existing knowledge by examining the relationship between prenatal testosterone exposure, measured indirectly through the 2D:4D ratio, and three facets of psychopathy: egocentricity, callousness, and antisocial behavior.
The 2D:4D finger ratio can be found by dividing the length of the index finger (2D) by the length of the ring finger (4D) on the same hand.
To conduct the study, the researchers recruited participants from introductory criminal justice courses at a large southwestern university. The data collection process involved two steps: an in-class paper and pencil survey and a separate laboratory portion. In the laboratory, participants underwent various measurements, including heart rate, skin conductance, saliva samples, facial symmetry, and hand scans to measure digit length.
A total of 862 participants completed the in-class survey, and approximately 66% of them (N = 567) scheduled a time to participate in the laboratory portion. Ultimately, 491 participants provided reliable hand scans and relevant demographic variables for analysis.
The results revealed the males had lower 2D:4D ratios than females, which indicates greater prenatal testosterone exposure. The males in the group also had higher rates of psychopathic personality traits. For males, there was a positive correlation between lower 2D:4D ratios and psychopathic traits. But this relationship was not found among females.
This study provides evidence for the link between prenatal testosterone exposure and psychopathic traits in males. The findings indicate that greater exposure to testosterone during prenatal development may account for the differing personality traits between males that are associated with psychopathy.
Perez and colleagues controlled for potential confounding factors such as age, race/ethnicity, parental arrest, and child physical and sexual abuse. The findings are also in line with a similar study, which found that higher prenatal testosterone exposure was linked to both Machiavellianism and psychopathy.
But the research team acknowledged some limitations to their study. For example, the study utilized self-report method to collect information on psychopathic traits. Self-report methods may be subject to social desirability bias.
Furthermore, the study did not investigate the specific mechanisms that contribute to the connection between prenatal testosterone exposure and psychopathy. It is conceivable that additional factors, such as childhood experiences or genetic predispositions, could also influence the development of psychopathic traits.
Despite these limitations, the study serves to illuminate biological foundations of psychopathy and emphasizes the significance of examining gender disparities in related research. The results indicate that prenatal testosterone exposure could be a contributing factor to the manifestation of primary psychopathy in males.
In general, the research holds significant implications for comprehending and addressing psychopathic behavior. By identifying potential biological indicators associated with psychopathy, researchers can potentially develop more focused interventions for individuals with the disorder. Moreover, acknowledging the gender-specific differences in the development of psychopathic traits enables clinicians to customize their treatment approaches to better suit the requirements of both male and female patients.
The study, “The association between the 2D:4D ratio and psychopathic characteristics,” was authored by Katherine L. Perez, Danielle L. Boisvert, Eric M. Cooke, Eric J. Connolly, Jessica Wells, Richard H. Lewis, Matthias Woeckener, and Todd A. Armstrong.