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Neuroscience: Snake detection may vary across the menstrual cycle

Scientific Reports

March 9, 2012

Women may detect snakes and other potentially dangerous stimuli more quickly during the latter phase of the menstrual cycle, a preliminary study published in Scientific Reports suggests. The authors did not collect blood samples to verify cycle phase and so further research is needed to confirm whether the reported behavioural effects correlate with hormone levels. Adult humans tend to detect images of snakes as targets more quickly than images of flowers. As mood, cognition and social behaviour are thought by some to fluctuate in women across phases of the menstrual cycle, Nobuo Masataka and his colleague investigated whether these changes influenced women’s performance in a snake-detection task. They tested 60 healthy, premenopausal, adult women during three distinct menstrual cycle phases. The participants were shown matrices containing either one snake image and eight flower images, or vice-versa, and had to detect the target image as quickly as possible. Reaction times were fastest when women were in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, during which concentrations of the hormones estradiol and progesterone are high. The authors attribute these findings to hormonal changes that occur in the menstrual cycle of healthy women, but additional studies, involving the collection of objective hormonal data, will be necessary to verify these results.

doi: 10.1038/srep00307

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