New evidence challenges ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism

A new study has challenged suggestions that the male sex hormone testosterone reduces cognitive empathy, or the ability to read other people’s emotional states.

Lower cognitive empathy is a feature of autism, a condition that predominantly affects males.

The new research takes the form of two large-scale randomized controlled trials that included a total of 643 adult males. It is the largest work of its kind.

The investigators, who hail from institutions in the United States and Canada, report their findings in a recent Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences paper.

They explain that earlier studies that have found links between testosterone and lower cognitive empathy had relied on very small samples and so had insufficient statistical power to establish a direct link.

“Our results unequivocally show that there is not a linear causal relation between testosterone exposure and cognitive empathy,” states first study author Amos Nadler, Ph.D., who worked on the study while at Western University, in Canada.


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