The Effect of Hormones on Stress and Memory Processes: A Study of PTSD

Open Access
Rattigan, Drew Elizabeth
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Amy Dyanna Marshall, Thesis Supervisor
  • Kenneth Levy, Honors Advisor
  • PTSD
  • Emotional Memory
  • Progesterone
  • Stress
  • Oral Contraceptives
Studies have found that women are more than twice as likely as men to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a trauma. To investigate this finding further, this study was designed to explore how hormonal variations in the menstrual cycle may affect the occurrence of intrusive memories and avoidance behaviors, two central features of PTSD. Women (n=30) were recruited into three experimental groups: naturally cycling women in the luteal phase, naturally cycling women in the follicular phase, and women on hormonal contraceptives. A comparison group of men (n=10) was also included in this study. All participants were asked to view a 10-minute clip from a film, which acted as an emotional stressor and an analogue traumatic event. Heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, and distress from the intrusive memories were also measured, along with the frequency of intrusive memories and avoidance behaviors following the film trauma. Primary results show that women on hormonal contraceptives experience significantly fewer intrusive memories following the film than naturally cycling women. In addition, women on hormonal contraceptives exhibited a decrease in diastolic blood pressure in response to the film whereas the other three experimental groups showed an increase in diastolic blood pressure. These results suggest that hormonal contraceptives may have a protective effect against extreme stress responses caused by menstrual cycle hormone variations, and may protect against the development of PTSD symptoms.