Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2023

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Thane Fremouw

Second Committee Member

Shannon McCoy

Third Committee Member

Jordan LaBouff


Oral contraception is currently used by over 100 million women worldwide. Women utilize contraception not only to prevent pregnancy but also to manage a wide range of health concerns, such as acne and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Although this medication has granted women bodily autonomy, helped them attain higher levels of education, and helped them enter the workforce in greater numbers, little is known about the consequences outside of the intended contraceptive effects, specifically the cognitive and behavioral consequences. Moreover, because doctors can prescribe contraception after the first menstrual cycle and during puberty, it’s possible that this critical window of development could be altered longitudinally as a synthetic form could change the naturally occurring hormonal levels that are in flux during this time. The present research sought to determine the effects of synthetic and naturally occurring estrogen and progesterone on behavior and cognition at a critical developmental period. To determine these effects, we used a mouse model of oral contraception and based the concentration on a commonly used contraceptive. After 31 days of administration with a combination levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol solution, we conducted two behavioral tests. First, we used the elevated plus maze to determine anxiety-like behaviors. We then explored fear conditioning and extinction by utilizing a three-day contextual fear extinction protocol with an additional cued fear recall day. Based on the existing literature, we hypothesized (1) animals treated with a combination OC would demonstrate decreased anxiety and fear conditioning and extinction compared to control animals. (2) Naturally cycling mice in diestrus would experience increased anxiety and fear conditioning and extinction compared to mice in estrus. (3) Animals treated in the potentially critical window during puberty would demonstrate significantly different anxiety and fear conditioning and extinction behaviors.