Prenatal Androgen Effects On Risky Behavior: Sensation Seeking and Risk-taking in Individuals with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia

Open Access
Author:
Groh, Timothy Lawrence
Area of Honors:
Psychology
Degree:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Dr. Sheri Berenbaum, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Frank Hillary, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • risky behavior
  • sensation seeking
  • risk-taking
  • congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • prenatal androgens
Abstract:
There are sex differences in risk-taking and related personality traits. Boys and men engage in more risky behavior than do girls and women. Sex differences in risky behavior may be partly influenced by early hormones. This hypothesis was tested in this study using the natural experiment congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a genetic disorder that results in exposure to high levels of androgens in utero. The personality trait sensation seeking and an experimental measure of risk-taking were assessed as part of a long-term study. At Time 1, 61 adolescents and adults (ages 16 to 27 years), including 33 girls and women with CAH and 11 boys and men with CAH, completed a sensation seeking questionnaire. At Time 2, 28 adults (ages 18 to 37 years), including 13 women and 3 men with CAH, completed the same measure of sensation seeking and an experimental measure of risk-taking. Unaffected same-sex relatives were controls. Unaffected males were hypothesized to score higher than unaffected females, and females with CAH were hypothesized to score higher than unaffected females on sensation seeking and risk-taking. At Time 1, unaffected males scored higher than unaffected females on sensation seeking and on the thrill and adventure seeking and boredom susceptibility subscales of sensation seeking, but not on the other two subscales. Females with CAH scored higher than unaffected females on thrill and adventure seeking, but not on the other subscales. At Time 2, there were no sex differences and no differences between females with versus without CAH on sensation seeking or risk-taking. The results do not allow firm conclusions about prenatal androgen effects on sensation seeking or risk-taking, but suggest that prenatal androgens may masculinize thrill and adventure seeking. Failure to find hypothesized effects may be due to limited statistical power.