A systematic literature review of sex differences in childhood language and brain development

Andrew Etchell, Aditi Adhikari, Lauren S. Weinberg, Ai Leen Choo, Emily O. Garnett, Ho Ming Chow, Soo Eun Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


The extent of sex differences in childhood language development is unclear. We conducted a systematic literature review synthesizing results from studies examining sex differences in brain structure and function relevant to language development during childhood. We searched PubMed and Scopus databases, and this returned a total of 46 published studies meeting criteria for inclusion that directly examined sex differences in brain development relevant to language function in children. The results indicate that: (a) sex differences in brain structure or function do not necessarily lead to differences in language task performance; (b) evidence for sex differences in brain and language development are limited; (c) when present, sex differences often interact with a variety of factors such as age and task. Overall, the magnitude of sexual dimorphism of brain developmental trajectories associated with language is not as significant as previously thought. Sex differences were found, however, in studies employing tighter age ranges. This suggests that sex differences may be more prominent during certain developmental stages but are negligible in other stages, likely due to different rates of maturation between the sexes. More research is needed to improve our understanding of how sex differences may arise due to the influence of sex hormones and developmental stages, and how these differences may lead to differences in various language task performance. These studies are expected to provide normative information that may be used in studies examining neurodevelopmental disorders that frequently affect more males than females, and also often affect language development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-31
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd


  • Brain
  • Children
  • Development
  • Language
  • Laterality
  • Sex differences


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