The role of olfaction and sex-hormone status in empathy-related measures

Autor(en): Gamsakhurdashvili, Dali
Antov, I, Martin
Luebke, Katrin T.
Pause, Bettina M.
Stockhorst, Ursula 
Stichwörter: Affective empathy; ASPERGER-SYNDROME; Behavioral Sciences; COGNITIVE EMPATHY; Estradiol; ESTROGEN-RECEPTOR-ALPHA; FACE; FACIAL MIMICRY; MENSTRUAL-CYCLE PHASE; ODOR IDENTIFICATION; Olfaction; Oral contraceptives; ORAL-CONTRACEPTIVES; Psychology; Psychology, Biological; RECOGNITION; TESTOSTERONE
Erscheinungsdatum: 2021
Herausgeber: PERGAMON-ELSEVIER SCIENCE LTD
Journal: PHYSIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR
Volumen: 230
Zusammenfassung: 
Reports of a female advantage in empathy-related measures suggest a role for sex hormones, although the data are inconsistent. Studies also report similar sex differences in human olfactory perception. In rodents, olfaction is involved in detecting and integrating socially relevant information and is modulated by the brain actions of estrogens. We hypothesized that olfaction may untangle the mixed evidence on the relationship between sex hormones and empathy-related measures (cognitive and affective) in humans. To test this, we examined 60 healthy participants in three sex-hormone-status groups: free-cycling women tested in cycle phases with higher 17-beta estradiol and progesterone, oral-contraceptive users (low estradiol and progesterone), and men. We assessed empathy-related measures, facial mimicry (from zygomaticus and corrugator muscle activity), and odor discrimination ability. In the empathy-related measures and facial mimicry, we did not find overall group effects or meaningful associations with salivary levels of estradiol, progesterone, or testosterone. Free-cycling women only outperformed men in the recognition of emotions from pictures of the eye region, but sex hormones were unrelated to emotion recognition performance. Oral contraceptive users showed higher scores in the affective empathy-related measure when viewing negative emotions, with no relation to hormone levels. Free-cycling women exhibited the strongest facial mimicry (viewing female, but not male protagonists), positively associated with progesterone. Finally, the groups differed in odor discrimination, with free-cycling women outperforming men. However, odor discrimination ability and empathy-related performance were not correlated. Our results support a role of sex hormones in odor perception and in empathy-related measures, to a certain extent. However, no common underlying mechanism was found.
ISSN: 00319384
DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.113289

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