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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Aug;34(7):1087-94. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.02.007. Epub 2009 Mar 17.

Effects of sex hormonal levels and phases of the menstrual cycle in the processing of emotional faces.

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  • 1Division of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, University of São Paulo, Avenida Bandeirantes 3900, CEP: 14048-900, Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil.

Abstract

Several neuropsychiatry disorders have shown a sexual dimorphism in their incidence, symptom profile and therapeutic response. A better understanding of the impact of sex hormones in emotional processing sexual dimorphism could bring light to this important clinical finding. Some studies have provided evidence of sex differences in the identification of emotional faces, however, results are inconsistent and such inconsistency could be related to the lack of experimental control of the sex hormone status of participants. More recently, a few studies evaluated the modulation of facial emotion recognition by the phase of the menstrual cycle and sex hormones, however, none of them directly compared these results with a group of men. We evaluated the accuracy of facial emotion recognition in 40 healthy volunteers. Eleven women were assigned to early follicular group, nine women to the ovulatory group and 10 women to luteal group, depending on the phase of menstrual cycle, and a group of 10 men were also evaluated. Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels were assessed. The performance of the groups in the identification of emotional faces varied depending on the emotion. Early follicular group were more accurate to perceive angry faces than all other groups. Sadness was more accurately recognized by early follicular group than by luteal group and regarding the recognition of fearful faces a trend to a better performance and a significantly higher accuracy was observed, respectively, in the early follicular group and in the ovulatory group, in comparison to men. In women, estrogen negatively correlated to the accuracy in perception of angry male faces. Our results indicate sex hormones to be implicated in a sexual dimorphism in facial emotion recognition, and highlight the importance of estrogen specifically in the recognition of negative emotions such as sadness, anger and fear.

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