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The Pill might be stopping you from recognising these emotions

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Emily Baker
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A new study has found that women on the Pill are less likely to detect “complex” emotions like contempt and pride. And it has also shown us just how much more research into oral contraceptives is needed…

A new study has found that women who take the oral contraceptive pill are less likely to be able to recognise complex emotions. While previous research has found that the Pill has no effect on the ability to pick up on more simplistic displays of happiness or fear, women on the Pill who took part in this study were 10% less likely to recognise more subtle expressions of emotions such as contempt and pride.

During the research, 95 women – 42 of whom were on the Pill – were asked to assign labels to black and white pictures of eyes depicting a range of “complex” emotions like boredom and uneasiness.Those not on the Pill were able to decipher these moods in the range of photos, while the other Pill-taking group were consistently worse at determining feelings categorised as hardest to recognise by the researchers at the University of Greifswald in Germany.

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Thanks to the very small sample and the variation in participants, this study has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the results do shine a light on some of the lesser known side effects of taking the Pill. 

“Oral contraceptives impair the ability to detect emotional expressions of others, which could affect the way users initiate and maintain intimate relationships,” explained Dr Alexander Lischke, who acted as the study’s lead researcher. 

The study comes mere weeks after the revelation that it is actually safe to take the Pill for seven days in a row, and that we can ignore advice to take a 7-day break each month. As it turns out, those rules were created to appease the Pope and the Catholic Church, which would apparently only give its blessing to the contraceptive if it could mimic a woman’s natural cycle. 

Essentially, all of this has proven that we desperately need more information about the Pill. Because, despite it being around for nearly 60 years, we are still very much in the dark about its psychological long term effects. 

“More than 100 million women worldwide use oral contraceptives, but remarkably little is known about the effect on emotion, cognition and behaviour,” explains Dr Lischke.

Conversely, we do know a lot about the physical side effects of taking the Pill, and some of them are rather welcome – it can help control acne, aid the symptoms of endometriosis and heavy periods, as well as reducing the risk of womb and ovarian cancers. However, long-term use of the Pill has also been linked with an almost doubled increase in the chance of developing cervical cancer and around 1% of breast cancers around the world are caused by taking oral contraceptives. Mental health issues, such as depression, can also be caused by taking the Pill.

Millions of us rely on the Pill as our main form of contraception without knowing the changes it is making to our behaviour and how we react to certain situations. Women need science – including those who fund it – to tackle the lack of knowledge and readily available information surrounding it’s psychological effects: in our opinion, the questions the Pill raises about our health and our relationship to the world around are too important to leave unanswered.

Photos: Getty Images

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Emily Baker

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