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How Reward and Emotional Stimuli Induce Different Reactions Across the Menstrual Cycle



Despite widespread belief that moods are affected by the menstrual cycle, researchers on emotion and reward have not paid much attention to the menstrual cycle until recently. However, recent research has revealed different reactions to emotional stimuli and to rewarding stimuli across the different phases of the menstrual cycle. The current paper reviews the emerging literature on how ovarian hormone fluctuation during the menstrual cycle modulates reactions to emotional stimuli and to reward. Behavioral and neuroimaging studies in humans suggest that estrogen and progesterone have opposing influences. That is, it appears that estrogen enhances reactions to reward, but progesterone counters the facilitative effects of estrogen and decreases reactions to rewards. In contrast, reactions to emotionally arousing stimuli (particularly negative stimuli) appear to be decreased by estrogen but enhanced by progesterone. Potential factors that can modulate the effects of the ovarian hormones (e.g., an inverse quadratic function of hormones’ effects; the structural changes of the hippocampus across the menstrual cycle) are also discussed.

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