Effects of acute stress on emotion recognition in the menstrual cycle
Flaman, Michaela M.
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The early follicular menstrual cycle phase is associated with enhanced female emotion recognition performance compared to the midluteal phase, likely due to differing estradiol and progesterone levels. Acute stress appears to also influence emotion recognition in females, but the direction of the effect is inconclusive. To fill in the gap in the literature, the present study examined the effects of acute stress on emotion recognition in specific phases of the menstrual cycle. Nineteen female psychology students between the ages of 18-29 years with regular menstrual cycles (i.e. 26-31 days in length) were recruited from the University of Regina via the Psychology Participant Pool. Participants performed a high or low stress task in the early follicular phase (low estradiol and progesterone levels) or midluteal phase (high estradiol and progesterone levels) before completing facial and auditory emotion recognition tasks. Results for auditory emotion recognition accuracy show the high stress condition outperformed the low stress condition for those in the early follicular phase group, but the opposite occurred in the midluteal phase group. Similar trends emerged for auditory emotion recognition reaction time and facial emotion recognition accuracy and reaction time. The present study suggests an interaction between sex hormones and the HPA axis on emotion recognition, but it is limited by its small sample size and estimation of sex hormone levels based on menstrual phase. Future studies could consider recruiting male participants, investigating oral contraceptive use, and administrating hormones to further examine the interaction between sex hormone levels and stress on emotion recognition performance.