Menstrual Cycle Does Not Affect Cognitive Performance, Study Finds

By Rebecca Lewis on July 10, 2017

It is a common belief that women aren’t in their best mental pitch when they’re having their period. But that may not be the case actually. That’s according to the latest findings published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience. 

A team of researchers from Medical School Hannover and University Hospital Zürich set out a study to examine three aspects of cognition across two menstrual cycles, and found that the levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone in your system have no impact on your working memory, cognitive bias or ability to pay attention to two things at once.  

They recruited 68 women to undergo detailed monitoring to investigate changes in three selected cognitive processes at different stages in the menstrual cycle. While analysis of the results from the first cycle suggested that cognitive bias and attention were affected, these results weren’t replicated in the second cycle. The team looked for differences in performance between individuals and changes in individuals’ performance over time, and found none. 

"As a specialist in reproductive medicine and a psychotherapist, I deal with many women who have the impression that the menstrual cycle influences their well-being and cognitive performance." said Professor Brigitte Leeners, the lead researcher. 

"The hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle do not show any association with cognitive performance. Although there might be individual exceptions, women’s cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes occurring with the menstrual cycle." 

Prof Leeners warned that more research is needed. But she said the new study represents a meaningful step forward, larger samples, bigger subsamples of women with hormone disorders, and further cognitive tests would provide a fuller picture of the way that the menstrual cycle affects the brain. In the meantime, Professor Leeners hopes her team’s work will start the long process of changing minds about menstruation. 

Source of this article:

Brigitte Leeners et al, Lack of Associations between Female Hormone Levels and Visuospatial Working Memory, Divided Attention and Cognitive Bias across Two Consecutive Menstrual Cycles, Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (2017).

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