Testosterone reduces functional connectivity during the 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' Test

Peter A Bos, Dennis Hofman, Erno J Hermans, Estrella R Montoya, Simon Baron-Cohen, Jack van Honk

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Women on average outperform men in cognitive-empathic abilities, such as the capacity to infer motives from the bodily cues of others, which is vital for effective social interaction. The steroid hormone testosterone is thought to play a role in this sexual dimorphism. Strikingly, a previous study shows that a single administration of testosterone in women impairs performance on the 'Reading the Mind in Eyes' Test (RMET), a task in which emotions have to be inferred from the eye-region of a face. This effect was mediated by the 2D:4D ratio, the ratio between the length of the index and ring finger, a proxy for fetal testosterone. Research in typical individuals, in individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC), and in individuals with brain lesions has established that performance on the RMET depends on the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we found that a single administration of testosterone in 16 young women significantly altered connectivity of the left IFG with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the supplementary motor area (SMA) during RMET performance, independent of 2D:4D ratio. This IFG-ACC-SMA network underlies the integration and selection of sensory information, and for action preparation during cognitive empathic behavior. Our findings thus reveal a neural mechanism by which testosterone can impair emotion-recognition ability, and may link to the symptomatology of ASC, in which the same neural network is implicated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-201
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Functional MRI
  • Hormones
  • Autism spectrum conditions
  • Social behavior
  • Mindreadinga


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