New research suggests the Pill could have a surprising emotional effect.

For some women, the Pill is accompanied by side effects ranging from headaches and breast tenderness to mood swings.

This week, a small study published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology has suggested the popular oral contraceptive might also have an impact on how we process emotions.

Researchers split 73 women into three groups to compare how Pill use, or lack thereof, affected their ability to empathise. This was measured through three components of empathy — emotional recognition, perspective-taking, and affective responsiveness.

Women in the first group were “naturally cycling”, those in the second group were taking active oral contraception, and the third group was in the midst of their pill-free (or “sugar pill”) week.

When it came to emotion recognition and perspective taking, the three groups were pretty similar. Yet where affective, or emotional, responsiveness was concerned there was an interesting difference.

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For this part, the participants were required to read hypothetical scenarios that were formulated to trigger an emotional response. They then selected which emotion they would feel if the situation happened to them in real life.

The women who were taking active pills performed significantly higher in this metric than those who were in their pill-free week.


This suggests the phase of pill usage has an impact on a emotions and empathy, and we might be a little… less empathetic during our off-pill week.

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Image: FOX.

The researchers note their findings indicate "an association with changes in endogenous and exogenous reproductive hormones."

Interesting, huh?

This isn't the first study to look at how the Pill might play into our emotional responses. Last year, a study claimed two regions of the brain were thinner among women who took the oral contraceptive.

One of those regions plays a role in the brain's regulation of emotions, so the researchers suggested their findings could explain why some pill users experience emotional side-effects. (Post continues after gallery.)


“It’s possible that this change in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex may be related to the emotional changes that some women experience when using birth control pills," lead author Nicole Petersen explained at the time.

While studies like these are interesting and might go some way in explaining why certain women might experience certain side-effects, it's important to remember the Pill is a safe and effective form of birth control.

That said, if you find yourself experiencing side effects from hormonal contraception that are ongoing or uncomfortable, you might want to consider trying an alternative.

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“It’s worth talking to a doctor and maybe changing the formulation [of the hormones in your Pill], or choosing something different altogether,” Dr Deborah Bateson, Medical Director of Family Planning NSW, has previously told Mamamia.

“There are also contraceptives without hormones, of course, like the copper IUD. It’s important to know there are ways of tackling these side effects.”

Contraception is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

Featured image: iStock