(312 kB) CA Conway, BC Jones, LM DeBruine, LLM Welling, MJ Law Smith, DI Perrett, M Sharp & EAS Al-Dujaili (2007). Salience of emotional displays of danger and contagion in faces is enhanced when progesterone levels are raised. Human Behavior and Evolution Society in Williamsburg, VA, USA. May 2007.

Previous studies suggest raised progesterone level is associated with increased contagion avoidance. Here we tested if women are more sensitive to facial cues to nearby contagion (disgusted expressions with averted gaze) and nearby physical threat (fearful expressions with averted gaze) when progesterone level is raised. In four weekly test sessions women (N=52) provided a saliva sample and rated the intensity of happy, fearful and disgusted composite face images with direct and averted gaze. Women demonstrated a greater tendency to perceive fearful and disgusted expressions with averted gaze as more intense than those with direct gaze when their progesterone level was relatively high. By contrast, there was no effect of progesterone level on perceptions of happy expressions. Our findings suggest women are more sensitive to facial cues signalling nearby contagion and physical threat when raised progesterone level prepares the body for pregnancy.

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