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Study: Your Period Doesn’t Negatively Affect Your Memory or Thinking Skills

August 24, 2017

Bloating, cramps and a sense of fatigue may be common for many women during their menstrual cycle, but a recent study finds that contrary to popular belief, having your period doesn’t negatively affect your thinking and memory.

A few previous studies have shown that hormones may affect a woman’s cognitive skills during her cycle. However, another recent study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, finds that this isn’t the case.

The study involved 88 women from Germany and Switzerland. Researchers tracked study participants during the first and second months of their period. However, only 68 women participated in the study’s second month. Researchers assessed visual and spatial memory, attention, cognitive bias (your perception of particular situations) and hormone levels at four different times in the women’s menstrual cycles. They found estrogen, progesterone and testosterone did not lead to differences in cognitive functioning among women in the study, and that hormone levels didn’t negatively affect most of the women’s memory or thinking skills. Researchers also discovered many of the women performed better on these tests during the second month of their period, which might be due to the fact that they became familiar with the tests after they took them the first time.

Still, it’s interesting that this study’s findings were the exact opposite of previous research, but this may be due to differences in sample sizes, random variances and study methods. I’d also caution that this study also used a small sample size of fewer than 100 women and only focused on a few select brain functions, so we still don’t yet have a way of conclusively knowing just what effect — if any — hormones may have on the brain during a woman’s menstrual cycle.

The larger and more important takeaway here is that linking cognitive functioning to hormones is shaky science at best and biased at worst, especially since this can affect public policy and workplace environments. It implies that women aren’t mentally capable of performing certain tasks because of something that is biologically innate — their menstrual cycle. Yes, there are hormonal changes during a woman’s period, but that doesn’t make her any less capable of thinking, remembering certain details or completing tasks that require a high level of cognitive function.

Bottom line: there’s limited evidence that so-called “period brain” actually exists.

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