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Front Neurosci. 2019 Feb 11;12:1041. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.01041. eCollection 2018.

Oral Contraceptives Impair Complex Emotion Recognition in Healthy Women.

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Department of Sport Sciences, University of Rostock, Rostock, Germany.
Department of Orthopaedics, University Medicine Rostock, Rostock, Germany.
Institute for Community Medicine, University Medicine Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.
Department of Psychology, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.
Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.


Despite the widespread use of oral contraceptives (OCs), remarkably little is known about the effects of OCs on emotion, cognition, and behavior. However, coincidental findings suggest that OCs impair the ability to recognize others' emotional expressions, which may have serious consequences in interpersonal contexts. To further investigate the effects of OCs on emotion recognition, we tested whether women who were using OCs (n = 42) would be less accurate in the recognition of complex emotional expressions than women who were not using OCs (n = 53). In addition, we explored whether these differences in emotion recognition would depend on women's menstrual cycle phase. We found that women with OC use were indeed less accurate in the recognition of complex expressions than women without OC use, in particular during the processing of expressions that were difficult to recognize. These differences in emotion recognition did not depend on women's menstrual cycle phase. Our findings, thus, suggest that OCs impair women's emotion recognition, which should be taken into account when informing women about the side-effects of OC use.


emotion recognition; estrogen; menstrual cycle; oral contraceptives; progesterone; social cognition

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