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As we continue our deep exploration of the brain, we are learning that not only does it control many functions within the body, but there are many different elements within the body that contribute to brain functions.
How Hormones Affect the Brain
Emotions have been shown to activate in many distinct parts of the brain, but the three most common structures of the brain linked back to emotions are, the amygdala, the insular cortex, and the periaqueductal gray, which is a structure within the midbrain.
Once a female hits puberty there are several different changes that begin to happen. With these changes, different waves of emotion can be seen as they go through distinct phases of their cycle. These waves can continue through adolescence and adulthood. As we have been uncovering the different mechanisms of emotional regulation within the brain, we have discovered a link between hormones and emotional responsiveness and recognition. Looking at females specifically we see a link between progesterone and estrogen, specifically estradiol.
RESEARCH on Emotions & Hormones
Generally, the menstrual cycle is broken down into four phases, the menstruation phase, the follicular phase, the ovulation phase, and the luteal phase, over the course of approximately 28 days.
To get a real understanding of how these hormones affect emotions, a study done by Dali Gamsakhurdaswili looked at the emotional processing of healthy women through different phases in their menstrual cycle. For Gamsakhudaswili’s study, however, they tested women at two stages in their cycle, midcycle was tested between days 10-13, and late-cycle was tested on days 17-23 of their cycle. As a control group, they also tested people who were on oral contraceptives.
The midcycle group had moderate to high estradiol levels and low levels of progesterone. The late-cycle group had elevated levels of progesterone and moderate levels of estradiol. The oral contraceptive control group had low estradiol and low progesterone.
While this study did not find any outstanding differences between the three groups, they did find some subtle differences such as both the late-cycle and oral contraceptive groups identified with emotions portrayed by females more than those portrayed by males. While the midcycle group identified emotions portrayed by men and women equally.
This could lead one to theorize that when women are closer to ovulation, they are more likely to identify men’s emotions more accurately. These findings have also been found in other studies. Still, to support this theory, however, there would need to be more research uncovering even more of the hidden mysteries of the relationship between hormones, emotions, and our brain.