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The role of estrogen in intrusive memories

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 20:59 authored by Cheung, J, Chervonsky, L, Kim FelminghamKim Felmingham, Bryant, RA
Intrusive memories are highly vivid, emotional and involuntary recollections which cause significant distress across psychological disorders including posttraumatic disorder (PTSD). Recent evidence has potentially extended our understanding of the development of intrusive memories by identifying biological factors which significantly impact on memories for emotionally arousing stimuli. This study investigated the role of stress on the development of intrusions for negative and neutral images, and indexed the potential contributions of sex (estrogen and progesterone) and stress (noradrenaline and cortisol) hormones. Whilst viewing the images, half the participants underwent a cold pressor stress (CPS) procedure to induce stress while the control participants immersed their hands in warm water. Saliva samples were collected to index estrogen, progesterone and noradrenergic and cortisol response. Participants (55 university students, 26 men, 29 women) viewed a series of negatively arousing and neutral images. Participants completed recall and intrusions measures 2 days later. Negative images resulted in greater recall and more intrusions than neutral images. In the cold water condition females recalled fewer neutral memories than males. Cortisol increase predicted decreased recall of negative memories in males, and estrogen predicted increased intrusions of negative images in women. These findings are consistent with evidence that circulating levels of ovarian hormones influence memory for emotionally arousing events, and provides the first evidence of the influence of sex hormones on intrusive memories. These results provide one possible explanation for the higher incidence of anxiety disorders in women.


Publication title

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory



Article number









School of Psychological Sciences


Academic Press

Place of publication

525 B St, Ste 1900, San Diego, USA, Ca, 92101-4495

Rights statement

Copyright 2013 Elsevier Inc.

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  • Restricted

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Clinical health not elsewhere classified

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