I’d like to consider a counterintuitive conjecture, a hypothesis suggesting that the possible natural hormonal constellation for a matrifocal culture is a high-testosterone/high-estrogen female mating with a low-testosterone/low-estrogen male. The patrifocal complementary opposite would be low-testosterone/low-estrogen females pairing with high-testosterone/high-estrogen males.

It feels counterintuitive for several reasons. First, you’d expect in a matrifocal culture that the males be attentive to the children. As neotenous males, they would be attracted to children. Of course, you could have matrifocal cultures where the convention and the hormonal constellation of the males provide ongoing positive attention to children. But, if there is a natural matrifocal paradigm, I’m not so sure that males with relatively high estrogen necessarily fit. In my mind, I’ve always figured the males were attentive to children. I assumed this partially because in a society featuring females exhibiting female choice, I figured females would pick males that were attentive to the children. I figured that this quality fit in with neotenous males. I’m starting to wonder.

One indication of the counterintuitive perspective is that in matrifocal aboriginal societies, men often live in their own enclaves with relatively little contact with children. In avuncular societies characterized by men not often knowing who their children are, their closest known descendants are their nieces and nephews. In patrifocal societies revolving around nuclear families, males usually live with the females and the children. Perhaps patrifocal males evidence higher estrogen than matrifocal males. It would be interesting to know.

More than ten years ago, I watched my aunt’s 5- or 6-year old son relate to his infant cousin. Something was awry. I observed the anxiety the interaction created in the other relatives around the room. My cousin was evidencing what Baron-Cohen noted as a deficit in a theory of mind. He behaved like his cousin was emoting apparatus, not a person. He would poke her and then watch/listen to the response.

My cousin’s mother, my mother’s sister, was over 40 when he was born. My aunt is left-handed, overweight and has odd communicative affect. The left-handedness and obesity suggested to me that she probably was high in testosterone. I suggested to my family that my nephew had Asperger’s. He was evaluated. The diagnosis came back saying he had learning disabilities, not Asperger’s. I suggested he be reappraised. The second diagnosis agreed with my estimation.

It was not just my cousin’s behavior but the mother’s behavior and her characteristics that suggested the diagnosis. The evaluators never even took the mother into consideration when they tested.

I’m wondering now if my cousin’s and my aunt’s estrogen levels might be contributing to their odd communicative tendencies. My cousin seemed strangely detached. My aunt, though her affect is also unusual in that she seems to have difficulty mirroring or reflecting another person’s experience, is extremely attentive and easily amused. I felt very attracted to her when I was little.

For ten years, I’ve been theorizing the effects of changing testosterone levels on human evolution and autism. The last few days, I’ve been considering possible repercussions of estrogen is this equation. It seems to me that high levels of mother’s uterine estrogen levels may also be influencing her progeny and the social structure toward which they are naturally inclined. Specifically, if matrifocal, high-testosterone females also evidencing high estrogen are creating (and mating with) low-testosterone males with low estrogen, then the low male estrogen may also be influencing autistic and Asperger’s males when they manifest dissociation from other human beings.

It may not be all about testosterone.

I recently began Riane Eisler’s book, Real Wealth of Nations. Reading this book has me suggesting to myself that I return to an evaluation of estrogen as integral to evolution, something which has bounced around the back of my thoughts for years. It was Riane Eisler’s Chalice and the Blade that started me down this theorizing path a dozen years ago (see humanevolution.net). It’s interesting to me that another of her books is taking this hypothesis in a fundamentally new direction.

If this new thesis has predictive power and an ability to effect positive change, examining the presuppositions that made it difficult to discern should tell me interesting things about myself and my society.


This entry was posted on Sunday, January 4th, 2009 at 8:46 am and is filed under Autism, Estrogen, Neoteny, Sexual Selection, Social Structure, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
6 Comments so far

  1. Debbie Whitear on January 5, 2009 4:12 am

    I am guessing that you are aiming your articles at a select minority group. Namely those with a high level of education, medical professionals and the like. I say this as an average person would find the use of jargon, and the use of extensive scientific terms very off putting. I appreciate and have great respect for your knowledge but the way you write, will only reach a select few. This is a pity as, if you wrote your articles in simple plain english, more people would be interested in your great theories. It would then appeal more to the masses. I am not saying that every average person will not understand what you are saying, but I bet a lot won’t. This is of course just my opinion. I think the article was very interesting but did not take into consideration the effect that hormones have on the male/female brain pattern of the developing embryo ie, a mother with high testosterone levels could produce a male child with a female brain and vice versa. Many thanks.

  2. Andrew on January 5, 2009 7:35 am

    I’m struggling to make what I am saying not just clearer, but clear. It will take time. Over the next few weeks I’ll try different ways to say these things, looking for word bridges that succeed.

  3. daedalus2u on January 9, 2009 7:09 pm

    You might want to look at my website for a different perspective. I am quite sure that the ASDs are due to development under low nitric oxide conditions.

    Testosterone synthesis is regulated by NO, with the rate limiting enzyme being inhibited by NO. Low NO increases androgen levels. Increased androgen levels cause increased hair growth. Increased hair growth stimulates the growth of the bacteria I am studying which increases the NO/NOx level.

    The testosterone data is consistent with a low NO hypothesis and a low NO hypothesis explains the testosterone data and a lot more. Essentially every symptom of ASDs is consistent with low NO.

  4. deb on April 9, 2009 1:03 am

    Very interesting stuff- keep it up! I have 3 asperger kids. I strive to understand the etiology.

  5. Spence Harger on June 6, 2010 6:46 am

    Thank you for your article. It makes a change to read an article that actually means something connected to Asperger’s. I’ve made a note of your site details and will visit again.

  6. Jonathan on October 27, 2010 3:40 pm

    I think this is an amazing, insightful piece. I too have questioned the role of testosterone in a lot of things and believe it gets unfairly dinged.

    Even though T and E are classically thought of as “male” and “female” hormones, dictating all gender-specific traits under he sun, I think it is not nearly that simple. For one, blood levels (serum) levels of hormones may not reflect peripheral levels in the organs. Bone is a good example – T has NOTHING to do with bone density and strength although it is anabolic. But males have stronger bones than females because the aromatase enzyme, which converts T to E, is vast in their skeletons. Also, the aromatase enzyme is the very last step in hormonal catalysis – all male hormones are converted to estrogen if the enzyme is present. Estrogen cannot be converted back to anything.

    Frankly, I implicate estrogen in a lot of “male” problems. Prostatic hyperplasia is one. Estrogen in pill form has also been shown to raise a man’s risk of heart attack and blood clots. Also, elderly men with high estrogen are also at increased risk for dementia, stroke, and brain atrophy. And I believe that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, that estrogen itself may be responsible for the autism spectrum disorders, unusual aggression, and social withdrawal. (On the flipside, I could see how LOW estrogen might be linked to an increased tendency toward anxiety disorders along with heightened emotionality and sensitivity.)

Name (required)

Email (required)


Share your wisdom