Electrophysiological and Behavioral Indices of the Role of Estrogens on Memory Processes for Emotional Faces in Healthy Young Women

Antonella Gasbarri, Mario D’Amico, Benedetto Arnone, Carla Iorio, Francesca Pacitti, Sabatino Ciotti, Paola Iorio, Assunta Pompili

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well known that estrogens influence cognitive activities, such as memory, and emotional states. The objective of the present study was to investigate the role of estrogens in the short-term memory processing of basic emotional face expressions, by means of event-related potentials (ERPs) and a recognition memory (RM) behavioral task. Healthy young women were divided into a periovulatory (PO) group, characterized by high levels of estrogens and low levels of progesterone, and an early follicular (EF) group, characterized by low levels of both estrogens and progesterone. During the RM task, all subjects viewed images of faces expressing six basic emotions (happiness, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise, fear) and one neutral expression while their electrophysiological activity was recorded. We considered P300 components, amplitude, and latency in response to each stimulus. Soon after the presentation of each stimulus face, a target image was presented, consisting of two faces, one of which was the same, while the other was a chimerical face, obtained by mixing the upper or lower halves of the faces of the stimulus image with a different emotion. The subjects had to choose between the two alternatives, and the reaction time (RT) and accuracy of response (RM errors) were measured. The main findings of this study showed that P300 amplitudes are significantly higher in response to the expressions of happiness, but significantly lower for sadness, in PO compared to EF. The P300 data are consistent with performance in the RM task and with the measures of RT. The interest in the emotion of happiness, unlike sadness, during the PO phase may reflect the evolutionary significance of female sex hormones linked to mating behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number234
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • emotional face expressions
  • estrogens
  • event-related potentials
  • memory
  • menstrual cycle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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