Perinatal Influences on Behavior and Health, with Special Emphasis on Sexual Orientation and Other Sex-Linked Behavior
When most social scientists think about environmental variables, they mean the social environment. Secondarily, they might have in mind the everyday physical environment that we all encounter. This chapter is concerned with a third type of environment, one that social scientists have largely ignored: the perinatal environment. The perinatal environment includes the time spent in the womb, called the prenatal (or intrauterine) environment along with the first few months after birth, called the postnatal environment. (Brief attention will be given to certain preconceptual factors as well.)
My review concentrates on behavioral effects of the perinatal environment, with an emphasis on sex-linked behavior, particularly sexual orientation. Sex- linked behavior is any behavior that is more common or pronounced in one sex (gender) than in the other. For example, this chapter explores whether behavioral patterns such as dominance-related aggression, spatial reasoning, and, especially, sexual orientation are influenced by perinatal factors. Wherever it is relevant to do so, I also mention how the perinatal environment seems to affect offspring health, especially health related to brain development.
Although the major objective of this chapter is to identify perinatal influences on human behavior, in fact, most of the research on perinatal influences on behavior has involved laboratory animals. Nonetheless, by piecing together the research from these nonhuman species with what is currently available from humans, it is reasonable to argue that the perinatal environment may be very important for understanding human behavior, particularly regarding sex differences in behavior.
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Publication information: Book title: Sexual Orientation:Toward Biological Understanding. Contributors: Lee Ellis - Editor, Linda Ebertz - Editor. Publisher: Praeger Publishers. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 71.
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