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.
he 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.
Cognitive empathy and ASD
In the United States, around 1 in 59 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and males are four times more likely to have it than females, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although it has been clear for some time that ASD affects more males than females, scientists do not understand why.