(141 kB) Conway CA, Jones BC, DeBruine LM, Welling LLM, Law Smith MJ, Perrett DI, Sharp M & Al-Dujaili EAS (2007). Salience of emotional displays of danger and contagion in faces is enhanced when progesterone levels are raised. European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association in London School of Economics, UK. March 2007.

Findings from previous studies of hormone-mediated behaviour in women suggest that raised progesterone level triggers behaviours that will reduce the likelihood of disruption to foetal development during pregnancy (e.g. increased avoidance of sources of contagion). Here we compared women’s sensitivity to potential cues to nearby sources of contagion (disgusted facial expressions with averted gaze) and nearby physical threat (fearful facial expressions with averted gaze) at two points in the menstrual cycle differing in progesterone level. Women (N=52; all reporting natural menstrual cycles) rated the intensity of happy, fearful and disgusted composite face images with direct and averted gaze in four weekly test sessions. In each test session, progesterone was measured from a saliva sample. 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 with direct and averted gaze, indicating that our findings for disgusted and fearful expressions were not due to a general response bias. 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. Furthermore, our findings support the proposal that raised progesterone level triggers behaviours that will help maintain normal foetal development during pregnancy.

Disclaimer: The information found and the views expressed in these homepages are not the responsibility of the University of Glasgow nor do they reflect institutional policy.