Estrogens affect a variety of behaviors in addition to sexual responses, some of them related to motor activity and emotional reactivity. This is true in experimental animals and in humans. The literatures on these subjects are confusing because not all of the experimental results point in the same direction. Here we propose the following theoretical suggestion, hoping to account for the variety of reports extant: following the generally arousing effects of estrogens, their hormonal actions on motor activity and fear depend on context. In a safe environment, estrogen treatment causes increased activity. But in a novel environment or in contexts otherwise perceived as threatening, activity is reduced by estrogen, due to the hormone's arousing action, which heightens fear. Many hormone-dependent neural circuits involving several neuropeptides could provide mechanisms for this dynamic. We suggest a causal route could involve the activation of corticotropin releasing hormone gene expression in the brain. In sum, estrogenic effects on arousal states, as manifest differently according to details of the environmental context during behavioral test, could account for some of the discrepancies in the literature.