Sex Differences, Rhesus Monkey, Digit Ratio, Maternal Social Dominance Rank


Prenatal androgen exposure (PAE) plays a pivotal role in masculinizing the developing body and brain, and extreme exposure may contribute to autism, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. One commonly used biomarker for PAE is the pointer-to-ring-finger digit length (2D:4D) ratio. Although this biomarker is widely used in human studies, relatively few studies have investigated 2D:4D ratio in nonhuman primates, particularly rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), one of the most commonly used animals in biomedical research. Thus far, data suggest that sexual dimorphism in 2D:4D ratio may be in the opposite direction in some monkey species, when compared to the pattern exhibited by humans and great apes. Using a large sample size, we investigated whether rhesus monkeys’ 2D:4D ratio shows the same sex-differentiated pattern present in other Old World monkey species. We also investigated whether individual differences in 2D:4D ratio are associated with the social dominance rank of subjects’ mothers during pregnancy, and the social dominance rank the subjects attained as adults. Subjects were 335 rhesus monkeys between 3 years and 24 years of age (M = 6.6). Maternal dominance rank during pregnancy and subjects’ adult dominance rank were categorized into tertiles (high, middle and low). Results showed that, across both hands, male rhesus monkeys exhibited higher 2D:4D ratio than females, a pattern consistent with other monkey species and a reversal from the pattern typically observed in humans and apes. This sex difference was modulated by maternal dominance rank, with female offspring of high-ranking and middle-ranking mothers exhibiting masculinized 2D:4D ratio, indicating that maternal dominance rank during pregnancy may influence levels of PAE. There was no association between subjects’ 2D:4D ratio and the social dominance rank they attained as adults. These findings show a consistent sex difference in Old World monkeys’ 2D:4D ratio that diverges from the pattern observed in apes and humans, and suggest maternal social dominance rank modulates PAE in rhesus monkeys.

Original Publication Citation

Baxter A, Wood EK, Jarman P, Cameron AN, Capitanio JP and Higley JD (2018) Sex Differences in Rhesus Monkeys’ Digit Ratio (2D:4D Ratio) and Its Association With Maternal Social Dominance Rank. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 12:213. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00213

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Front. Behav. Neurosci.




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor

Included in

Psychology Commons