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Sex and gender correlates of sexually polymorphic cognition.

BACKGROUND: Sexually polymorphic cognition (SPC) results from the interaction between biological (birth-assigned sex (BAS), sex hormones) and socio-cultural (gender identity, gender roles, sexual orientation) factors. The literature remains quite mixed regarding the magnitude of the effects of these variables. This project used a battery of classic cognitive tests designed to assess the influence of sex hormones on cognitive performance. At the same time, we aimed to assess the inter-related and respective effects that BAS, sex hormones, and gender-related factors have on SPC.

METHODS: We recruited 222 adults who completed eight cognitive tasks that assessed a variety of cognitive domains during a 150-min session. Subgroups were separated based on gender identity and sexual orientation and recruited as follows: cisgender heterosexual men (n = 46), cisgender non-heterosexual men (n = 36), cisgender heterosexual women (n = 36), cisgender non-heterosexual women (n = 38), gender diverse (n = 66). Saliva samples were collected before, during, and after the test to assess testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone. Psychosocial variables were derived from self-report questionnaires.

RESULTS: Cognitive performance reflects sex and gender differences that are partially consistent with the literature. Interestingly, biological factors seem to better explain differences in male-typed cognitive tasks (i.e., spatial), while psychosocial factors seem to better explain differences in female-typed cognitive tasks (i.e., verbal).

CONCLUSION: Our results establish a better comprehension of SPC over and above the effects of BAS as a binary variable. We highlight the importance of treating sex as a biological factor and gender as a socio-cultural factor together since they collectively influence SPC.

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