Menstrual cycle effects on cortisol responsivity and emotional retrieval following a psychosocial stressor

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


This article is part of a Special Issue "Estradiol and cognition".Laboratory-induced stress produces elevations in cortisol and deficits in memory, especially when stress is induced immediately before retrieval of emotionally valent stimuli. Sex and sex steroids appear to influence these stress-induced outcomes, though no study has directly compared the effects of laboratory-induced stress on cortisol and emotional retrieval across the menstrual cycle. We examined the effect of psychosocial stress on cortisol responsivity and emotional retrieval in women tested during either the follicular phase (low estradiol and progesterone) or the luteal phase (higher estradiol and progesterone). Forty women (50% White; age 18-40. years) participated in the study; 20 completed the task during the luteal phase and 20 during the follicular phase. Psychosocial stress was induced with the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). On the day before the TSST, participants learned two lists of word pairs to 100% criterion. The next day, participants recalled one list after the control condition and the other after the TSST. Women in the follicular phase, but not the luteal phase, demonstrated a significant cortisol response to the TSST. There was a stress-induced decrease in emotional retrieval following the TSST, but this effect was not modified by menstrual phase. However, regression and correlational analyses showed that individual differences in stress-induced cortisol levels were associated with impaired emotional retrieval in the follicular phase only. The present findings indicate that cortisol responsivity and the impairing effects of cortisol on emotional memory are lower when levels of estradiol and progesterone are high compared to when levels are low.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-208
Number of pages8
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognition
  • Cortisol
  • Emotion
  • Estradiol
  • Memory
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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