Steroid hormones, receptors, and perceptual and cognitive sex differences in the visual system

Robert J. Handa, Robert F. McGivern

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The actions of gonadal steroid hormones induce morphological sex differences in many tissues in the body, including brain. These occur either during development to organize tissues in a sex-specific pattern and/or in adulthood to activate specific cellular pathways. Cellular and morphological changes in the brain, induced by androgens and estrogens, underlie behavioral sex differences in both reproductive and non-reproductive behaviors, including visual perception. A growing body of evidence indicates that some sex differences related to visual perception arise as the result of the organizational actions of gonadal steroid hormones on cerebral cortical pathways involved in visual processing of objects and movement. This review addresses the influence of gonadal steroids on structural, biochemical and morphological changes in tissues in the brain and body. These effects are extended to consider how gonadal hormone effects may contribute to cognitive sex differences across species that are related to processing within the dorsal and ventral visual streams for motion and objects, respectively. Lastly, this review considers the question of how cognitive sex differences related to processing of movement and objects in humans may be reflective of two types of cognitive style that are only superficially related to gender.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-127
Number of pages18
JournalCurrent Eye Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Androgen
  • Cortex
  • Estrogen
  • Receptor
  • Sex difference
  • Visual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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