3 years ago

Association of menstrual cycle phase with the core components of empathy

Evidence has accumulated that emotion recognition performance varies with menstrual cycle phase. However, according to some empathy models, facial affect recognition constitutes only one component of empathic behavior, besides emotional perspective taking and affective responsiveness. It remains unclear whether menstrual cycle phase and thus estradiol and progesterone levels are also associated with the two other empathy constructs. Therefore, we investigated 40 healthy right-handed females, 20 during their follicular phase and 20 during their midluteal phase and compared their performance in three tasks tapping the empathic components as well as self-report data. Salivary hormone levels were obtained and correlated with performance parameters. Subjects were matched for age and education and did not differ in neuropsychological function. Analysis of empathy performance revealed a significant effect of phase in emotion recognition, showing higher accuracy in the follicular group. Regarding affective responsiveness, we observed a significant difference in reaction times, with faster responses for sad and angry stimuli in the midluteal group. No significant group difference emerged for emotional perspective taking. Furthermore, significant correlations between progesterone levels and emotion recognition accuracy and affective responsiveness emerged only in the luteal group. However, groups did not differ in self-reported empathy. Our results indicate that menstrual cycle phase and thus ovarian hormone concentration are differentially related to empathic behavior, particularly emotion recognition and responsiveness to negative situations, with progesterone covarying with both in the luteal phase.

Highlights

► First study to investigate the relationship between menstrual cycle and a broader array of empathic abilities. ► Females during the follicular phase showed better emotion recognition performance. ► Females in the luteal phase showed faster responses when asked to imagine a sad or angry situation. ► Emotional perspective taking performance did not differ between the two phase groups. ► Progesterone correlated with emotion recognition and affective responsiveness in the luteal phase.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0018506X12002632

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