Prenatal hormone exposure effects brain development

Researchers at Bath University have discovered that having a good grasp of, or an aversion towards, using technology can be predicted by the hormones we are exposed to in the womb.

Prenatal testosterone exposure has been argued to have an effect on the way the brain develops that makes it either easier or more difficult to understand technology.

Researchers in the university’s Department of Psychology found that levels of pre-natal testosterone exposure were higher in computer science students who achieved higher scores in their computer programming assessments.

They measured this by looking at the students’ finger, or digit, ratio – the relative length of the ring finger compared to the index finger – which has been found to indicate levels of pre-natal testosterone exposure.

Computer-science students with a relatively longer ring finger, which indicates higher exposure to prenatal testosterone, obtained higher grades on their university programming course.

The study compared the finger lengths of 150 students who were studying computer science at the university over a number of years, undertaking a range of programming assignments and found a clear link between a student’s grades and the relative lengths of their index and ring fingers on all occasions.

The team also looked at non-computer science students to see if aversion to using technology was related to relative finger length. The study comprised of 119 social science students and found that a relatively shorter ring finger related to greater feelings of anxiety about using technology.

The research suggests that lower exposure to prenatal testosterone relates to a general ’anxiety sensitivity’, that is, being particularly sensitive to any sensations of anxiety that arise.

Dr Mark Brosnan, who is leading the research, said: ’It is fascinating that this index of prenatal testosterone exposure is impacting upon university grades 20 years later.’