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Can women use the birth control pill to read bad emotions on faces?
Many women use the birth control pill to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Physicians have now found that taking this contraceptive pill appears to limit women's ability to assess other people's emotions based on their facial expressions.
In their current study, the scientists at the University of Greifswald in Germany found that taking the contraceptive pill in women seems to limit the assessment of emotions in other people. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Frontiers in Neuroscience".
Possible side effects of the pill
Taking the pill can lead to various side effects that have been known for a long time, such as mood swings, nausea, headache and breast sensitivity. Doctors are now also investigating the effects of the birth control pill on mental health. While a possible link between the pill and mental health problems has been questioned in recent years, little is known about how oral contraception affects women's ability to interpret complex facial expressions.
95 women participated in the study
For the current study, 95 healthy women between the ages of 18 and 35 were examined. Although the study was conducted with only a small group of subjects, the researchers believe that their results could prove useful for future contraceptive pill guidelines. 42 women taking part indicated that they took the pill, while the other 53 subjects did not. The women were then shown 37 black and white images showing the area around the eyes on human faces.
What form of test did the subjects go through?
Each of the pictures was given four descriptions of an impression of emotions, each of which describes a different complex emotional expression such as pride or contempt. Three of the four descriptions were distractors (quick answers), while the last description was correct. The women were then asked to choose the expression they thought best described the picture. The results showed that women who took the pill were less likely to correctly evaluate facial expressions.
Emotion detection task was very demanding
If oral contraceptives would lead to dramatic impairments in the detection of emotions by women, we would probably have already noticed this in everyday dealings with users, says study author Dr. Alexander Lischke from the University of Greifswald. The doctors therefore assumed that these impairments would be very subtle, which is why the detection of emotions in women had to be tested with a task that was sensitive enough to detect such minor impairments.
The scientists therefore used a very demanding task for emotion recognition, in which complex emotional expressions from the eye area had to be recognized by faces. While the groups in the study were able to recognize simple expressions equally well, the users of the oral pill were less likely to correctly identify the difficult expressions, the author continues. The pill affects estrogen and progesterone levels in women, which may also explain the impact on emotional ability.
More research is needed
Further research is now needed to determine whether the pill's effect on emotion detection in women is affected by the type of pill taken and what the difference is, how long it has been taken, or at what time of day. (as)