Hormones, ovulatory cycle phase and pathogen disgust : a longitudinal investigation of the Compensatory Prophylaxis Hypothesis

Stern, Julia and Shiramizu, Victor (2022) Hormones, ovulatory cycle phase and pathogen disgust : a longitudinal investigation of the Compensatory Prophylaxis Hypothesis. Hormones and Behavior, 138. 105103. ISSN 1095-6867 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2021.105103)

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Abstract

Multiple studies have argued that disgust, especially pathogen disgust and contamination sensitivity, change across women's ovulatory cycle, with higher levels in the luteal phase due to an increase in progesterone levels. According to the Compensatory Prophylaxis Hypothesis (CPH), women have a higher disgust sensitivity to pathogen cues when in the luteal phase (or when progesterone levels are higher), because progesterone is associated with suppressed immune responses. Evidence for this hypothesis is rather mixed and uncertain, as the largest study conducted so far reported no compelling evidence for an association between progesterone levels and pathogen disgust. Further, ovulatory cycle research has been criticized for methodological shortcomings, such as invalid cycle phase estimates, no direct hormone assessments, small sample sizes or between-subjects studies. To address these issues and to contribute to the literature, we employed a large, within-subjects design (N = 257 with four sessions each), assessments of salivary hormone levels and cycle phase estimates based on luteinizing hormone tests. A variety of multilevel models suggest no compelling evidence that self-reported pathogen disgust or contamination sensitivity is upregulated in the luteal phase or tracks changes in women's hormone levels. We further found no compelling evidence for between-subjects associations of pathogen disgust or contamination sensitivity and hormone levels. Results remain robust across different analytical decisions (e.g. in a subsample of women reporting feeling sick). We discuss explanations for our results, limitations of the current study and provide directions for future research.