Prenatal testosterone exposure is related to sexually dimorphic facial morphology in adulthood

Andrew J.O. Whitehouse, Syed Zulqarnain Gilani, Faisal Shafait, Ajmal Mian, Diana Weiting Tan, Murray T. Maybery, Jeffrey A. Keelan, Roger Hart, David J. Handelsman, Mithran Goonawardene, Peter Eastwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

136 Citations (Scopus)


Prenatal testosterone may have a powerful masculinizing effect on postnatal physical characteristics. However, no study has directly tested this hypothesis. Here, we report a 20-year follow-up study that measured testosterone concentrations from the umbilical cord blood of 97 male and 86 female newborns, and procured three-dimensional facial images on these participants in adulthood (range: 21-24 years). Twenty-three Euclidean and geodesic distances were measured from the facial images and an algorithm identified a set of six distances that most effectively distinguished adult males from females. From these distances, a 'gender score' was calculated for each face, indicating the degree of masculinity or femininity. Higher cord testosterone levels were associated with masculinized facial features when males and females were analysed together (n = 183; r = —0.59), as well as when males (n = 86; r = —0.55) and females (n = 97; r = —0.48) were examined separately (p-values < 0.001). The relationships remained significant and substantial after adjusting for potentially confounding variables. Adult circulating testosterone concentrations were available for males but showed no statistically significant relationship with gendered facial morphology (n = 85, r = 0.01, p = 0.93). This study provides the first direct evidence of a link between prenatal testosterone exposure and human facial structure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20151351
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1816
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Face shape
  • Hormones
  • Prenatal
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Testosterone


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