Fluctuations in ovarian hormones are thought to play a role in the increased prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders in women. Error-related negativity (ERN) and error positivity (Pe) are two putative electrophysiological biomarkers for these internalizing disorders. We investigated whether female hormonal status, specifically menstrual cycle phase and oral contraceptive (OC) use, impact ERN and Pe. Additionally, we examined whether the relationship between the ERN and negative affect (NA) was moderated by hormonal status and tested whether the ERN mediated the relation between ovarian hormones and NA. Participants were healthy, pre-menopausal women who were naturally cycling (NC) or using OCs. Using a counterbalanced within-subject design, all participants performed a speeded-choice reaction-time task twice while undergoing electroencephalography measurements. NC women (N = 42) performed this task during the early follicular and midluteal phase (when estrogen and progesterone are both low and both high, respectively), while OC users (N = 42) performed the task during active OC use and during their pill-free week. Estradiol and progesterone levels were assessed in saliva. Comparing the two cycle phases within NC women revealed no differences in the (Δ)ERN, (Δ)Pe or NA. We did observe a negative relation between phase-related changes in the ΔERN and changes in NA. Mediation analysis additionally showed that phase-related changes in estradiol were indirectly and negatively related to NA through a reduction of ΔERN amplitudes. When comparing active OC users with NC women, we observed increased ΔPe- but not (Δ)ERN amplitudes in the former group. No evidence was found for moderating effects of menstrual cycle phase or OC use on the relation between the ERN and NA. These findings suggest that hormonal status may impact the neural correlates of performance monitoring and error sensitivity, and that this could be a potential mechanism through which ovarian hormones influence mood.
Keywords: Electrophysiological performance monitoring; Error positivity (Pe); Error-related negativity (ERN); Menstrual cycle; Negative affect; Ovarian hormones.
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