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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Dec;62:343-51. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.08.022. Epub 2015 Sep 12.

Early visual processing is enhanced in the midluteal phase of the menstrual cycle.

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School of Medicine (Psychology), University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia. Electronic address:
School of Medicine (Psychology), University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia.
School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia.


Event-related potential (ERP) studies have revealed an early attentional bias in processing unpleasant emotional images in women. Recent neuroimaging data suggests there are significant differences in cortical emotional processing according to menstrual phase. This study examined the impact of menstrual phase on visual emotional processing in women compared to men. ERPs were recorded from 28 early follicular women, 29 midluteal women, and 27 men while they completed a passive viewing task of neutral and low- and high- arousing pleasant and unpleasant images. There was a significant effect of menstrual phase in early visual processing, as midluteal women displayed significantly greater P1 amplitude at occipital regions to all visual images compared to men. Both midluteal and early follicular women displayed larger N1 amplitudes than men (although this only reached significance for the midluteal group) to the visual images. No sex or menstrual phase differences were apparent in later N2, P3, or LPP. A condition effect demonstrated greater P3 and LPP amplitude to highly-arousing unpleasant images relative to all other stimuli conditions. These results indicate that women have greater early automatic visual processing compared to men, and suggests that this effect is particularly strong in women in the midluteal phase at the earliest stage of visual attention processing. Our findings highlight the importance of considering menstrual phase when examining sex differences in the cortical processing of visual stimuli.


ERP; Emotion; Menstrual phase; Midluteal phase; Negativity bias; Sex differences; Visual processing

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