High progesterone is associated with less coherent brains
In a new study which will be published in the journal Brain and Cognition, Oliver Schultheiss, Mariya Patalakh, and Andreas Rösch have examined the association between progesterone levels and measures of how well the two brain hemispheres share the work of processing information. Using measures of attention, processing of verbal and nonverbal information, and implicit motives and explicit goal strivings, the authors found that men and women with high levels of progesterone in their saliva had brains whose hemispheres exchanged information less efficiently with each other.
The authors tested interhemispheric information exchange by assessing attentional functions separately in the two hemispheres, measuring the ability to quickly name objects, and measuring how well individuals implicit needs for power, achievement, and affiliation were aligned with their personal goal strivings related to power, achievement, and affiliation. They found that the higher individuals’ levels of salivary progesterone, the less were bottom-up attentional functions aligned between the hemispheres, the longer did individuals take to retrieve verbal labels for objects, and the less congruent were their personal goals with their implicit motives. The only function whose interhemispheric coordination improved with higher levels of progesterone was top-down control of attention. In short, it appears that individuals with high progesterone levels not only had less coherent brains, they also pursued goals that did not fit their motivational needs.
Because progesterone has been shown to be high in individuals with a strong implicit need for affiliation (e.g., Schultheiss, Wirth, & Stanton, 2004) , Schultheiss speculates that the soothing and stress-reducing effect of this hormone comes at the price of reduced self-congruence via reduced coherence between brain modules. “Perhaps this is the biological reason why people with a strong need to affiliate are so prone to adopting other people’s goals and wishes: they simply are less in tune with themselves and have no access to their own needs and wishes,” he explains. The finding also comes at a critical time when social neuroscience in general is focusing on the beneficial effects of affiliative behavior in times of stress, as viewed from the perspective of another affiliation hormone, oxytocin. It may be premature to view “tending and befriendig”, as some researchers have called this behavioral strategy, as a panacea for the negative effects of stress.
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