Analogue Trauma Exposure and Emotional Memory Intrusions: The Role Of Ovarian Hormones

Open Access
Daly, Kelly A
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
June 21, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Amy Dyanna Marshall, Thesis Advisor
  • Peter Andrew Arnett, Committee Member
  • Sheri A. Berenbaum, Committee Member
  • trauma
  • memory intrusions
  • sex
The gender difference in the development of reexperiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be partly explained by the influence of gonadal hormones on memory consolidation for stressful events. Circulating levels of ovarian hormones may influence the encoding of stressful memories, via their modulation of stress-response systems. This study augments existing research asserting that absolute levels of circulating ovarian hormones determine risk for the development of memory intrusions by also considering the prospect that cyclical fluctuations in estradiol and progesterone may facilitate re-experiencing. The low hormone early follicular (EF) phase of the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptive (HC) use, which eliminates cyclical fluctuations in endogenous estradiol and progesterone, may serve to diminish the risk naturally cycling women face for severe stress responding and the subsequent development of intrusive memories. To replicate existing research and contextualize potential protective effects, the development of memory intrusions following trauma film stressor exposure was assessed and compared among men (n = 27), HC users (n = 41), naturally cycling (NC) women in the EF (n = 24), late follicular (n = 20), ovulatory window (n = 14), and luteal phases (n = 21) for a 5-day period to determine whether low ovarian hormone levels confer a protective effect among women. Contrary to hypotheses, this study found no support for this prospect; rather, stressor exposure during the window around ovulation increased risk for the occurrence more frequent intrusive memories. Enhanced stress responsivity may have particular utility around ovulation as a means to promote evolutionary fitness.