Gender Development in Early Adolescence: Prenatal Hormones &Family Socialization

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description

Sex matters. Being born a girl or boy carries implications for health and illness. Despite
considerable interest in the development and maintenance of sex-related processes, there are
noticeable gaps in the literature that we propose to address. We will study how the interplay
between biological predispositions and social experiences shapes gender development at the
adolescent transition;sex-related characteristics increase in importance at this time, with longterm
consequences for opportunities, choices, and health. Taking a biopsychosocial
perspective, we will study family socialization in 120 girls exposed to varying levels of androgen
during prenatal development owing to congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH);we will compare
them to a previously-assessed group of 150 typical girls. The aims are: (a) to chart how
gendered characteristics (identity, interests, personal-social attributes, attitudes, activities) are
linked to family socialization and how the links are moderated by degree of prenatal hormone
exposure and by parent-child relationship quality;and (b) to examine how gender development
is linked to psychological health (self-concept and internalizing and externalizing problems).
Girls aged 11-13 will be interviewed about their gendered characteristics, psychological health,
and relationships with their parents;they will provide DNA via saliva for analysis of mutations in
the gene causing CAH (reflecting degree of androgen exposure). During seven follow-up phone
calls, girls will describe their gendered activities and companions that day. Parents will provide
information about their gender socialization through questionnaires and reports during four
phone calls about their own gendered characteristics and activities, expectations and beliefs for
their daughter, management of their child's gendered activities, and about warmth in the parentchild
relationship. As a natural experiment, girls with CAH provide a magnification of normal
developmental processes;combining girls with CAH and typical girls yields a sample with
variation in both hormone exposure and family socialization, and sufficient statistical power for
hypothesis-testing. The work has public health impact, showing how gender matters for
behavior and health, and how biological predispositions affect socialization experiences. This
information can lead to interventions to improve mental and physical health. Data also will aid in
management of children born with ambiguous genitalia and children with gender dysphoria.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date8/1/097/31/10

Funding

  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: $725,382.00

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