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Does testosterone impair men's cognitive empathy? Evidence from two large-scale randomized controlled trials

Nadler, Amos and Camerer, Colin F. and Zava, David T. and Ortiz, Triana L. and Watson, Neil V. and Carré, Justin M. and Nave, Gideon (2019) Does testosterone impair men's cognitive empathy? Evidence from two large-scale randomized controlled trials. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 286 (1910). Art. No. 20191062. ISSN 0962-8452. PMCID PMC6742992.

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The capacity to infer the mental states of others (known as cognitive empathy) is essential for social interactions, and a well-known theory proposes that it is negatively affected by intrauterine testosterone exposure. Furthermore, previous studies reported that testosterone administration impaired cognitive empathy in healthy adults, and that a biomarker of prenatal testosterone exposure (finger digit ratios) moderated the effect. However, empirical support for the relationship has relied on small-sample studies with mixed evidence. We investigate the reliability and generalizability of the relationship in two large-scale double-blind placebo-controlled experiments in young men (N=243 and N=400), using two different testosterone administration protocols. We find no evidence that cognitive empathy is impaired by testosterone administration or associated with digit ratios. With an unprecedented combined sample size, these results counter current theories and previous high-profile reports, and demonstrate that previous investigations of this topic have been statistically underpowered.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper CentralArticle
Nadler, Amos0000-0001-5069-5742
Camerer, Colin F.0000-0003-4049-1871
Zava, David T.0000-0001-7558-8732
Watson, Neil V.0000-0002-1709-4889
Carré, Justin M.0000-0002-8967-9288
Nave, Gideon0000-0001-6251-5630
Additional Information:© 2019 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society. Manuscript received 08/05/2019; Manuscript accepted 12/08/2019; Published online 04/09/2019; Published in print 09/2019. Ethics: The institutional review boards of Caltech and Claremont Graduate University approved the study, all participants gave informed consent, no adverse events occurred during any experimental session and no participant or researcher was harmed. For experiment 2, the study was approved by the Nipissing University Research Ethics Board. Data accessibility: Data are available from the Dryad Digital Repository: [57] and the Open Science Framework ( Authors’ contributions: A.N. and G.N.: experimental design, manuscript and data analysis; C.F.C.: manuscript; D.T.Z.: manuscript and hormonal assay; T.L.O.: experimental design, data collection and hormonal assay; N.V.W.: manuscript; J.M.C.: experimental design and manuscript. We declare we have no competing interests. Funding for this work was generously provided by Caltech, Ivey Business School, IFREE, Russell Sage Foundation, University of Southern California, INSEAD, Stockholm School of Economics, Wharton Neuroscience Initiative, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation. The authors specially thank Jorge Barraza, Austin Henderson, Garrett Thoelen, Dylan Manfredi, Kimberly Gilbert, Caelan Mathers, Emily Jeanneault, Nicole Marley, Kendra Maracle, Victoria Bass-Parcher, Nadia Desrosiers, Charlotte Miller, Brittney Robinson, Dalton Rogers, Megan Phillips, Brandon Reimer, Camille Gray, Christine Jessamine and Brandon Reimer who assisted this study, and David Kimball for LC-MS/MS assay testing. The authors thank Ralph Adolphs for his comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Ivey Business SchoolUNSPECIFIED
International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics (IFREE)UNSPECIFIED
Russell Sage FoundationUNSPECIFIED
University of Southern CaliforniaUNSPECIFIED
Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires (INSEAD)UNSPECIFIED
Stockholm School of EconomicsUNSPECIFIED
Wharton Neuroscience InitiativeUNSPECIFIED
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)UNSPECIFIED
Northern Ontario Heritage Fund CorporationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:testosterone, cognitive empathy, mind reading, prenatal priming, steroid hormones, pharmacology
Issue or Number:1910
PubMed Central ID:PMC6742992
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190114-091654704
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Nadler A, Camerer CF, Zava DT, Ortiz TL, Watson NV, Carré JM, Nave G. 2019. Does testosterone impair men’s cognitive empathy? Evidence from two large-scale randomized controlled trials. Proc. R. Soc. B 286: 20191062
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:92246
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:14 Jan 2019 20:21
Last Modified:15 Apr 2020 16:20

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