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Assessing the effects of prenatal hormone exposure on the human life-Course

This research project has been completed. Please contact a team member for further information.


Early exposure to androgens (e.g. testosterone, T) has permanent effects on brain and behaviour. The effects of these hormones differ depending on the period of exposure.

While measurement of hormone concentrations during adulthood is becoming more frequent in surveys, perinatal hormone exposure measurement has not been systematically implemented in large-scale representative surveys.

The limitation of existing studies is that they often have few participants and limited information on later-life outcomes. Neither can they assess whether pre-natal hormone exposure is a factor in life course development.

However, the difficulty involved in carrying out measurement in embryos and has resulted in the need for indirect measurement.

The 2D:4D measurement can be used as a proxy measure of hormone exposure. It is associated with a variety of health-related, physiological, personality and behavioural within and between genders.

There are outcome implications of these traits in various life-course domains such as occupational careers, partnership, reproduction, and adolescent risk behaviour.

Project aims

The project aims to :

  • assess whether the markers 2D;4D are valid when used to predict outcomes in later life
  • estimate the degree of hormone exposure in the population looking at variations between and within gender types, and from one region to another
  • study how social factors interact with hormone exposure and how they might influence life course outcomes
  • assess intergenerational transmission of traits and possible mediation of hormone exposure
  • assess whether 2D:4D data collection is feasible in cross national surveys

Data sources and methods

The study makes use of the 6th wave of the Innovation Panel (IP6) of the Understanding Society study. This is the first time that proxy measures of hormone exposure (2D:4D) will have been used within a large longitudinal study.

Approximately 1200 households will be interviewed using a mix of face-to-face, web and telephone interviewing for all household members aged 16 and above. Those aged between 10 and 15 will be given self completion interviews.

Using markers of hormone exposure; the length of the second and 4th fingers (known as 2D:4D) will be measured either by trained interviewers or via clear instructions given to respondents where telephone and web based methods are being used.

Team members

Dr Sebastian Schnettler

Senior Researcher and Lecturer - Konstanz University

Project Leader

Dr Cara Booker

Research Fellow and Deputy Director of Graduate Studies - ISER - University of Essex


Professor Annette J├Ąckle

Professor of Survey Methodology - ISER - University of Essex



  1. Understanding Society Innovation Panel Wave 6: results from methodological experiments

    Nick Allum, Katrin Auspurg, Margaret Blake, et al.

Iser proj cara20140917 23488 fvv6uq

Photo credit: Molly