Sex differences in the relationship between cortisol levels and the Empathy and Systemizing Quotients in humans.

OBJECTIVE: Little is known regarding the relationship between cortisol (a stress hormone) levels and psychological cognitive styles. Baron-Cohen proposed two fundamental cognitive styles, which are measured by the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and the Systemizng Quotient (SQ). Previous studies have examined the influences of prenatal testosterone exposure on EQ and SQ scores. This study aimed to examine the relationships between morning cortisol levels and EQ and SQ scores, and the 'brain types' which were determined by two quotients in both sexes. These relationships are potentially important in the developmental psychopathology of autism and neuroeconomics of empathy.

METHODS: We assessed morning cortisol levels with LC/MS (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry) and ESQ in healthy male and female university students.

CONCLUSIONS: Results indicate clear sex differences between brain types: i.e. E-type males and S-type females (participants with atypical cognitive styles) have significantly higher cortisol levels than S-type males and E-type females (participants with typical cognitive styles). Implications for the role of sex in social adaptation of autistic patients are discussed.

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