Circadian fluctuations in glucocorticoid level impact perceptual sensitivity

Jonas Obleser, Jens Kreitewolf, Ricarda Vielhauer, Fanny Lindner, Carolin David, Henrik Oster, Sarah Tune


Slow neurobiological rhythms, such as the circadian expression of glucocorticoid (GC) hormones, modulate a wide variety of brain and body functions. Whether and how such endocrine fluctuations also exert an influence on perceptual abilities is largely uncharted. Here, we show that phasic, moderate increases in GC availability prove beneficial to auditory discrimination. In an age-varying sample of N = 68 healthy human participants, we characterise the covariation of saliva cortisol with perceptual sensitivity in an auditory pitch-discrimination task at five time points across the sleep--wake cycle. First, momentary saliva cortisol levels were captured well by the time relative to the wake-up cycle and overall sleep duration. Second, within individuals, higher cortisol levels just prior to behavioural testing improved participant’s pitch discrimination abilities, expressed as a steepened psychometric curve. This effect of glucocorticoids on perceptual sensitivity held under a set of statistical control models. Our results pave the way for more in-depth studies on neuroendocrinological determinants of sensory encoding and perception.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11.2020

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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