Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Period Brain No More

"Women's cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes occurring with the menstrual cycle."
"Once the women had done the test the first time, they were better the next time. You perform better when you know the test."
"I think the important thing is that women perform independent from hormonal levels. Caution is warranted when conclusions are made for specific hormonal effects on cognitive functioning."
"Women's hormonal-menstrual cycle related changes do not limit them in their cognitive functioning."
Dr. Brigitte Leeners, expert, women's reproductive health, University Hospital, Zurich

This, the results of a new study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, puts the lie to the endlessly repeated urban myth denigrating women's cognitive ability and emotional stability that holds women behave irrationally and struggle with failing intellectual competence under the influence of hormonal fluctuations relating to their monthly menstruation cycles.

The female menstrual cycle takes on average 28 days to complete its three phases; follicular (pre-egg release); ovulatory (egg release); and luteal (post-egg release). Dr. Leeners and her team of researchers recruited 88 women between the ages of 18 and 40 for their study, and a follow-up study during a second menstrual cycle assessed a total of 68 women. Their study differed from most others where only one menstrual cycle was typically followed.

Measurements of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and related hormones were taken at predefined periods across the two cycles. Cognitive tests on a touch screen computer to measure divided attention, visual-spatial working memory (the recall of shapes and colours and movements) and cognitive bias (judgement or comprehension inconsistencies) in processing information were given to the study participants.

In some women, progesterone and testosterone associated with changes across one cycle were identified, but the effects did not recur during the second round, and the implications of that were taken to suggest the effect of a learning curve. Had the changes been associated with hormones both cycles would have manifested similar results, and they did not. What the researchers take from the results of their study is that the common reflex of female 'instability' influencing the outcome of criminal trials, for example, have been misplaced.

Attributing menstrual stress as having been involved in some instances of criminal offences committed by women, and allowing them special consideration based on that belief is clearly, if this study is correct, out of place in a court of law. Premenstrual stress equating with a type of temporary disequilibrium akin to insanity prejudices an unwarranted outcome.

The conclusion reached by Dr. Leeners' research team omitted the study of "premenstrual dysphoric disorder", a condition that can be physically debilitating and which affects two to five percent of women, causing severe depression, irritability and dark changes in mood prior to menstruation. In their research, the study made an assessment of three brain functions only, noting the results "are certainly not exhaustive and hence do not cover the whole range of cognitive functioning."

And there are always other phenomena when dealing with human physiology, hormones and stressors to be considered. For example, an earlier study published by British researchers that demonstrated when women are experiencing severe cramping and pain related to their menstrual period, they performed less well on brain tasks requiring attention; their reactions were slower and clearly less accurate. Might anyone believe that a male struggling with pain would react any differently?

an illustration of a brain hovering above a hand

New research finds that the menstrual cycle has no effect on cognitive function

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