12 March 2011

High Pre-Natal Testosterone Exposure & Genius, ADHD, Autism

"There seems to be some evidence that excessive prenatal exposure to testosterone facilitates increased connections in the brain, especially in the right prefrontal cortex," said Mrazik. "That's why we see some intellectually gifted people with distinct personality characteristics that you don't see in the normal population."...Mrazik's notion came from observations made during clinical assessments of gifted individuals. _SD
Genius is more commonly seen in males than females, and males certainly receive much higher pre-natal exposures to testosterone than females, on average. In addition, high pre-natal exposures to testosterone have also been associated with increased rates of ADHD and autism, two disorders more commonly seen in males than females, like genius.

ADHD has recently been associated with greater creativity:
A new study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences found adults with ADHD enjoyed more creative achievement than those who didn’t have the disorder.

“For the same reason that ADHD might create problems, like distraction, it can also allow an openness to new ideas,” says Holly White, assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and co-author of the paper. “Not being completely focused on a task lets the mind make associations that might not have happened otherwise.” _SB
Of course one would need to unravel all the different associations involved. Just as not all males are geniuses, neither are all persons with ADHD exceptionally creative. The situation cries out for extensive genetic analysis in conjunction with an analysis of hormonal history, family history, and life experience. Here's more on a particular gene, RORA, associated with autism.
"Autism has a huge sex bias, and it's been proposed that higher levels of fetal testosterone may put a fetus at risk," said study researcher Valerie Hu, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "We've provided an explanation of how this works."

Normally, RORA's job in cells is to turn on several other genes, Hu said. When a cell has high levels of testosterone, RORA levels run low, which affects every gene that RORA is supposed to turn on. The researchers based their findings on tests of neurons growing in lab dishes.
The research does not show that low levels of RORA cause autism, only that they are associated with the condition, Hu said. But other research has suggested that a RORA deficiency could explain many of the effects seen in autism. _MSNBC
...more is known about what derails the brain’s normal development, thus charting what makes gifted people gifted is very much a new frontier. Mrazik hopes that devices such as the Functional MRI scanner will give them a deeper understanding of the role of neurobiology in the development of the gifted brain.

“It’s really hard to say what does put the brain in a pathway where it’s going to be much more precocious,” he said. “The next steps in this research lay in finding out what exact stimuli causes this atypical brain development.” _Eurekalert
Asperger's Syndrome is 9 times more common in males than females, and is also thought to be associated with male genius.
But Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of Cambridge University, says it is more accurate to describe this creativity as "systemising" - a strong drive to analyse detail.

"This might be in mathematics, machines, natural phenomena or anatomy, to identify rules that govern a system and any variations in that system."

While those whose strength lies in rational analysis are by no means exclusively male, it is described as a male brain trait compared with the so-called female ability to empathise - a characteristic weak spot for those with Asperger's.

"The condition does tend to affect men more than women, especially among those who are high-functioning. Males outnumber females nine to one in this diagnosis," he says. _PDF BBC PDF

If politically influential feminists truly wish to eliminate the gender gap in math-intensive areas such as physics, advanced engineering, theoretical computer science, and other hard sciences and technical fields, perhaps they should legislate pre-natal testosterone levels for all fetuses. The world would lose a great deal in variety and emotional colour, but achieving such a leveling would no doubt give these feminists a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

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