Hormonal contraceptives, menstrual cycle and brain response to faces

Klara Mareckova, Jennifer S. Perrin, Irum Nawaz Khan, Claire Lawrence, Erin Dickie, Doug A. McQuiggan, Tomas Paus*, IMAGEN Consortium

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Both behavioral and neuroimaging evidence support a female advantage in the perception of human faces. Here we explored the possibility that this relationship may be partially mediated by female sex hormones by investigating the relationship between the brain's response to faces and the use of oral contraceptives, as well as the phase of the menstrual cycle. First, functional magnetic resonance images were acquired in 20 young women [10 freely cycling and 10 taking oral contraception (OC)] during two phases of their cycle: mid-cycle and menstruation. We found stronger neural responses to faces in the right fusiform face area (FFA) in women taking oral contraceptives (vs freely cycling women) and during mid-cycle (vs menstruation) in both groups. Mean blood oxygenation level-dependent response in both left and right FFA increased as function of the duration of OC use. Next, this relationship between the use of OC and FFA response was replicated in an independent sample of 110 adolescent girls. Finally in a parallel behavioral study carried out in another sample of women, we found no evidence of differences in the pattern of eye movements while viewing faces between freely cycling women vs those taking oral contraceptives. The imaging findings might indicate enhanced processing of social cues in women taking OC and women during mid-cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-200
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number2
Early online date21 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • menstrual cycle
  • oral contraception (OC)
  • fMRI
  • fusiform face area (FFA)
  • eye movements
  • healthy-young women
  • gender-differences
  • sex-differences
  • facial expressions
  • activation
  • oxytocin
  • recognition
  • attention
  • networks
  • performance


Dive into the research topics of 'Hormonal contraceptives, menstrual cycle and brain response to faces'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this