Psychology and Social Sciences



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Sean Clark, Psychology, Brianna Bailey, Psychology and Johnathan Fehrer, Psychology
Faculty Mentor: Professor Jean DiPirro, Psychology

This study was designed to investigate the effects of estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P4) in the presence of heightened levels of cortisol, on the consolidation of emotional memory in female students. The design was: 3(E2/P4 LEVEL: HIGH [luteal] or LOW [follicular] or LOW [monophasic contraceptives]) x2[STRESSOR: PRESENT or ABSENT] x2[STORY VALENCE: NEGATIVE or NEUTRAL]). Previous research has shown that ovarian sex hormones increase stress-induced cortisol release. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with enhanced emotional memory consolidation. This suggests that in response to a stressor, women with higher ovarian hormone levels will experience greater cortisol release and therefore enhanced emotional memory consolidation compared to women with lower levels of E2 and P4. Accordingly, naturally cycling women in the luteal phase will exhibit better recall for emotional memory consolidation under stress than naturally cycling women in the follicular phase and women taking monophasic hormonal contraceptives. During the pilot study, participants were asked to read two stories created from the Affective Norms for English Text and then rate the emotional valence of the stories. In the primary study, participants were read one of the stories (negative or neutral) while shown slides from the International Affective Picture System before submerging their right hand into either cold water (present) or warm water (absent). One week later, participants were asked to come back for a surprise free-recall test. We expected that stressed women in the luteal phase would recall more emotional elements of a story than their counterparts. Data collection is ongoing.

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Sanguine Paradise: Effects of Cortisol and Ovarian Hormones on Emotional Memory
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