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Department of Psychology


Debra Spencer is a Research Associate and an Affiliated Lecturer in the Department of Psychology. She is currently managing the Cambridge Brain and Behaviour Study (CamBABS), a five-year project designed to assess sex/gender differences in brain structure and behaviour.

Debra completed her PhD in Psychology at the University of Cambridge. Her doctoral thesis, which was supervised by Professor Melissa Hines and funded by the National Institutes of Health in the United States, investigated the biological and environmental factors that mediate or moderate sex differences in young children’s aggression.

Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Debra completed her BA in Social and Political Sciences (psychology stream) at the University of Cambridge. Data collected and analysed for Debra’s final year dissertation were included in a manuscript published in Social Development (see below). After graduating, Debra spent the remainder of 2007 working as a Research Assistant for Professor Claire Hughes in the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge before taking up a fulltime position as Research Associate for Melissa Hines in January 2008. Debra transitioned from fulltime to part time status when she started her PhD in October 2008. In her role of Research Associate, Debra managed two longitudinal studies for Melissa Hines, the focus of which were to study the role of prenatal hormones and social-cognitive influences on gendered behaviour and gender development in a sample of healthy children and a sample of children with an endocrine-based disorder of sex development (DSD) and their unaffected relatives.


Debra's current research interests include studying how individual and family factors, together with factors related to the wider social environment, influence the use of physically aggressive behaviour in children; developing effective research designs for studying how prenatal influences, e.g., gonadal hormones, interact with postnatal experience to shape brain development and behaviour; and optimizing psychological well being in individuals exposed prenatally to atypical hormone environments.


Key publications: 

Alexander, A., Putnam, S., Zweig, A., Ellis, A., Lipina, S., Ruetti, E., Segretin, M. S., Castillo, K., Ison, M. S., Greco, C., Jensen, L., Conte, E., Akhter, S. R., Urbain-Gauthier, N., Spencer, D., & authors, a. a. (2019, March 21-23, 2019). Cultural influences on temperament development: Findings from the Global Temperament Project Society for Research in Child Development 2019 Biennial Meeting, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Browne, W. V., Hindmarsh, P. C., Pasterski, V., Hughes, I. A., Acerini, C. L., Spencer, D., . . . Hines, M. (2015). Working memory performance is reduced in children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Hormones and behavior, 67(0), 83-88. doi:

Constantinescu, M., Spencer, D., Pasterski, V., Neufeld, S., Glover, V., Hindmarsh, P., . . . Hines, M. (2010). Do human sexually dimorphic finger ratios (2D:4D) reflect prenatal exposure to androgens? Paper presented at the Fourth Gender Development Research Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Ensor, R., Spencer, D., & Hughes, C. (2011). 'You Feel Sad? 'Emotion Understanding Mediates Effects of Verbal Ability and Mother–Child Mutuality on Prosocial Behaviors: Findings from 2 Years to 4 Years. Social Development, 20(1), 93-110.

Hines, M., Constantinescu, M., & Spencer, D. (2015). Early androgen exposure and human gender development. Biology of Sex Differences, 6(3). doi: 10.1186/s13293-015-0022-1

Hines, M., Pasterski, V., Spencer, D., Neufeld, S., Patalay, P., Hindmarsh, P. C., . . . Acerini, C. L. (2016). Prenatal androgen exposure alters girls' responses to information indicating gender-appropriate behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 371(1688).

Hines, M., Spencer, D., Kung, K. T. F., Browne, W. V., Constantinescu, M., & Noorderhaven, R. M. (2016). The early postnatal period, mini-puberty, provides a window on the role of testosterone in human neurobehavioural development. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 38, 69-73.

Kung, K. T. F., Spencer, D., Pasterski, V., Neufeld, S., Glover, V., O'Connor, T. G., . . . Hines, M. (2016). No Relationship Between Prenatal Androgen Exposure and Autistic Traits: Convergent Evidence From Studies of Children With Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia and of Amniotic Testosterone Concentrations in Typically-Developing Children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. doi:

Kung, K. T. F., Spencer, D., Pasterski, V., Neufeld, S. A. S., Hindmarsh, P. C., Hughes, I. A., . . . Hines, M. (2018). Emotional and Behavioral Adjustment in 4 to 11-Year-Old Boys and Girls with Classic Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia and Unaffected Siblings. Psychoneuroendocrinology. doi:

Kurth F., Spencer D., Hines M., Luders E. (2018). Sex differences in associations between spatial ability and corpus callosum morphologyJournal of Neuroscience Research00, 1–8. doi:

Liben, L. S., Pasterski, V., Glover, V., Hilliard, L. J., Hindmarsh, P. C., Neufeld, S. A., Spencer, D., & Hines, M. (2010). Prenatal testosterone exposure and children's later self-endorsements of gender-differentiated activities and traits. Paper presented at the Fourth Gender Development Research Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Neufeld, S., Pasterski, V., Spencer, D., Hindmarsh, P., & Hines, M. (2010). Girls with CAH show masculinized color preferences. Paper presented at the Fourth Gender Development Research Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Pasterski, V., Zucker, K., Hindmarsh, P., Hughes, I., Acerini, C., Spencer, D., . . . Hines, M. (2014). Increased Cross-Gender Identification Independent of Gender Role Behavior in Girls with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: Results from a Standardized Assessment of 4- to 11-Year-Old Children. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1-13. doi: 10.1007/s10508-014-0385-0

Schaefer, C., Liben, L. S., Schroeder, K. M., Pasterski, V. L., Glover, V., Hindmarsh, P. C., . . . Spencer, D., & Hines, M. (2017). Does prenatal testosterone predict children's changing interests in gender differentiated activities? Paper presented at the Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, TX. 

Spencer, D. (2013). Factors that influence the sex difference in young children's physical aggression. (PhD), University of Cambridge.  

Spencer, D. (2014). Prenatal testosterone exposure and physical aggression in preadolescent children. Paper presented at the BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Spencer, D., Glover, V., & Hines, M. (2013). Testosterone, temperament and the sex difference in young children’s physical aggression. Paper presented at the CogDev 2013: BPS Developmental and Cognitive Sections Joint Conference, University of Reading.

Spencer, D., Pasterski, V., Neufeld, S., Glover, V., O'Conner, T. G., Hindmarsh, P. C., . . . Hines, M. (2018). Prenatal androgens and gender-related play: Different results using different methods? Paper presented at the Gender Development Research Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Spencer, D., Pasterski, V., Neufeld, S., Glover, V., O'Connor, T. G., Hindmarsh, P. C., . . . Hines, M. (2017). Prenatal androgen exposure and children's aggressive behavior and activity level. Hormones and behavior, 96, 156-165. doi:

Spencer, D., Pasterski, V., Neufeld, S. A. S., Glover, V., O'Connor, T. G., Hindmarsh, P. C., . . . Hines, M. (2021). Prenatal androgen exposure and children's gender-typed behavior and toy and playmate preferences. Hormones and behavior, 127, 104889. doi:

Research Associate
Affiliated Lecturer

Contact Details

Gender Development Research Centre
Department of Psychology
Free School Lane
+44 (0)1223 (3)34578
Collaborator profiles: 
Person keywords: 
brain imaging
child development
sex differences
gender development
Not available for consultancy