Cortisol reactivity and emotional memory after psychosocial stress in oral contraceptive users

Kristen L. Mordecai, Leah H. Rubin, Erin Eatough, Erin Sundermann, Lauren Drogos, Antonia Savarese, Pauline M. Maki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Oral contraceptive (OC) users typically show a blunted or no cortisol response to psychosocial stress. Although most OC regimens include both an inactive (dummy) and active pill phase, studies have not systematically investigated cortisol responses during these pill phases. Further, high levels of cortisol following a stressor diminish retrieval of emotional material, but the effects of stress on memory among OC users are poorly understood. We examined the effects of a psychosocial stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test, vs. a control condition on cortisol responsivity and emotional memory retrieval in women tested either during their active (n = 18) or inactive pill phase (n = 21). In secondary analyses, we quantitatively compared OC users with normally cycling women and showed a significant lack of cortisol response during both active and inactive pill phase. Emotional recall did not differ between active and inactive pill phases. Stress differentially diminished recall of negative words compared with positive or neutral words, but cortisol levels were unrelated to memory performance. These findings indicate that OC users have distinct cortisol and memory responses to stress that are similar between the active and inactive pill phases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-135
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neuroscience research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • cognition
  • emotion
  • oral contraceptives
  • sex steroid hormones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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