Hormonal changes during pregnancy bring on plenty of psychological changes, apart from the much-talked-of mood fluctuations. A new study by British scientists published in the Hormones and Behavior reveals that pregnancy heightens women’s ability to read the expressions on people’s faces.
Scientists already established the fact that women can more or less accurately identify the expressions of fear and distaste depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle; on the days when the level of the hormone progesterone goes up their perceptive ability becomes sharper.
Since pregnancy causes a significant rise of progesterone and other hormones – especially in its late stages – researchers at the University of Bristol headed by Rebecca Pearson decided to check whether the ability to recognize emotions sharpens during pregnancy as well.
New Scientist published the description of the research. 76 pregnant women were shown 60 faces on the computer to which they were to assign one of six emotions; they did it first before they were 14 weeks pregnant and once again after they were past their 34th week. The reading accuracy regarding the expressions of happiness and surprise was the same at both stages of the experiment, but late pregnancy readings showed much higher accuracy rates in cases of such emotions as anger, fear or disgust.
The researchers conclude that, when moving into the late stages of pregnancy, a woman becomes far more observant. Her vigilance increases as the necessity to be aware of potential threats to her and her fetus is growing. Mothers’ sharpened receptivity that brings about hyper-vigilance, though, can also make them fall victims to the feeling of anxiety, Pearson warns. Women who are inclined to be over-anxious may suffer from their heightened ability to identify negative emotions in the people who surround them.
Rebecca Pearson accentuates the fact that even pregnant women who have no anxiety problems ‘might interpret negative or emotional things around them in a slightly more sensitive way’. Source of the image: sxc.hu/profile/bjearwicke.