Science Suggests that Boys Are Born This Way, Like, for Real

Illustration for article titled Science Suggests that Boys Are Born This Way, Like, for Real

Ahhh, nature vs. nurture. The ye oldieste questionne! Are we born this way (nice, mean, fat, gay, smart, aggressive, passive, selfish, Republican, otherkin, whatevs) or are we made this way by the homosensual Kenyan media elite? Or whatever? Well, personally, I make it a point not to give any shits. ON PRINCIPLE. While I consider it likely that most gay people are born gay, it seems pretty clear that even if someone chooses to be gay, they still deserve equal rights. Also, lots of people who do poorly in school weren't born stupid—they were born poor with no resources or support. Not punishing people for things over which they have no control = Good. Eugenics = bad. Nature vs. nurture can cut very painfully both ways. So, basically, fuck this conversation.


HOWEVER. All that said, I obviously do not mean we should abandon science and stop trying to figure out what the fuck makes people people. I just mean that we ought to take those discoveries with a million grains of social responsibility. And here's an interesting one.

A new study finds that fetal testosterone levels can affect boys' temperament later in life:

Researchers studied a group of boys ages 8 to 11 whose fetal testosterone had been measured from amniotic fluid when their mothers were 13-20 weeks pregnant. Sex hormone levels, which increase during adolescence, are also heightened during critical periods of fetal brain development.

The boys in the study were shown pictures of negative (fearful), positive (happy), neutral, or scrambled faces while a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine tracked changes in their brain activity. In the boys who had higher levels of fetal testosterone, the brain's reward system was more responsive to positive, compared with negative, facial cues, the researchers found. This suggests those boys have a greater proclivity for "approach-related behaviors," such as fun-seeking and impulsivity.

"This work highlights how testosterone in fetal development acts as a programming mechanism for shaping sensitivity of the brain's reward system later in life and for predicting later tendency to engage in approach-related behaviors," study researcher Michael Lombardo, of the University of Cambridge, said in a statement.

So there you go! If there's a special boy in your life who's seeking a little too much fun, it could just be that he's been programmed that way since Wombtown. If I'm understanding this correctly, boys with high fetal testosterone are affected less—care less—when met with disapproval than boys with standard fetal testosterone levels. That's actually really fucking interesting, given what we know about testosterone's effects on human temperament.

But what do you do with that information? What manages fetal testosterone levels? Do you absolve criminally impulsive men of civic responsibility because they were born that way? Duh, no. Do you abort babies who get a little too much fetal testosterone? OBVIOUSLY NOT. No person with a properly functioning brain would seriously suggest either of those things IRL—but I'm interested in the line where scientific discovery ends and personal responsibility begins. What bores me here isn't the science (keep sciencing it up, science!), it's the notion that if our behavior is programmed by uncontrollable factors, then so what? I guess my dumb hope is for a day when we understand everything and none of it matters, because we treat human beings like human beings whether they were born or made.

Boys' Behavior May Be Programed By Fetal Testosterone, Study Finds [HuffPo]

Photo credit: picturepartners / Stockfresh.



There are not two camps, one with the NATURE banner and the other with the NURTURE banner, sharpening their spears and covering their faces with warpaint. It's more like two teams where, sometimes you need more from one group, sometimes it's more people from the other group.

For example, some things are 100% nature (genetic), and 0% nurture. I cannot parent my children into having different color eyes or hair. They have what they have.

Some temperaments, however are a bit of both. Anxiety is partially nature, partially nurture. A child born with a tendency for being anxious can still be made less anxious by certain kinds of parenting. A child with no anxiety issues can have them drilled into them by a parent who does have these issues.

If you look at twin studies, you'll start to see percentages thrown around various personality aspects. For example, homosexuality: If one identical twin is gay, the other is around 55% likely to be gay (note: NOT 100%!). If they're fraternal twins, the chances drop to 22%. I've seen the same studies repeated for studiousness, cleanliness, aggression, cognitive abilities, and artistic abilities, and each one will have percentages attached to them, where a trait is discovered to be X% genetic and 100-X% environment.