The Pill Influences Women’s Recognition of Emotion
lthough more than 100 million women use the pill as a contraceptive, little is known about how the pill affects the behaviour and cognition of these women. A number of studies that have been published recently suggest that the pill could affect the processing of emotional impulses and the regulation of emotional reactions. A team of researchers from the University of Greifswald, the University of Rostock and the University of Potsdam has now published a study in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, which provides evidence that the pill could affect women’s processing of emotions.
The study that was led by Dr. Alexander Lischke from the University of Greifswald’s Institute of Psychology was able to show that women who took the oral contraceptive were unable to recognise emotional facial expressions as successfully as women who were not taking the pill. Interestingly, women who took the pill were affected the most when processing emotional facial expressions that were generally difficult to recognise. In contrast, no impairments could be recognised when processing emotional facial expressions that were generally easy to recognise. The results show that women who took the pill have very specific restrictions when it comes to processing emotions. Furthermore, the restrictions tend to be subtle rather than substantial, which makes it questionable as to whether these restrictions actually have any effect on the social behaviour of these women.
Therefore, Dr. Lischke makes clear that it would be wrong to interpret that these results prove that women who take the pill are ‘emotionally blind’, resulting in problems for intimate relationships. Further studies are required before such statements can be made, which not only investigate the influence of the pill on the processing of emotions, but also on the composition of relationships.
Dr. Lischke plans to carry out further studies to investigate the mechanism that causes the impairments in the recognition of emotions and the composition of relationships. Whilst it seems plausible that the pill influences the activity in the parts of the brain that process emotions and thus the recognition of emotions through the modulation of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, it must still be proved that this actually takes place. It is essential that further studies are carried out, in particular as experimental investigations, and with more extensive samples to be able to make final conclusions about the influence of the pill on the cognition and behaviour of women. As increasing numbers of women are taking the pill from the start of puberty and often up until the start of the menopause, these studies are not only interesting for science, but also for the general public.
Pahnke, R., Mau-Moeller, A., Junge, M., Wendt, J., Weymar, M., Hamm, A. O., & Lischke, A. (2018). Oral contraceptives impair complex emotion recognition in healthy women. Front Neurosci. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.01041
Contact at the University of Greifswald
Dr. Alexander Lischke
Institute of Psychology
Physiological and Clinical Psychology/Psychotherapy
Franz-Mehring-Straße 47, 17489 Greifswald
Tel.: +49 3834 420 3720