Date of Award
Bachelor of Science
Dr. Laura Knouse
Dr. David Landy
The goal of the current study was to further extend limited research assessing the effects of sex, menstrual phase, and oral contraceptive use on sexually dimorphic cognitive tasks, as well as emotional regulation. Studies have found that menstrual cycle phases have cognitive and physiological effects on women’s brains depending on the concentration of female sex hormones, progesterone and estrogen (Epting & Overman, 1998). Oral Contraceptive pills (OC) contain a concentration of these female sex hormones that have been shown to alter gray matter volume to resemble men’s brains in areas associated with learning, memory, spatial navigation, and emotional regulation (Pletzer et al., 2010). Participants for this study were 21 undergraduates from the University of Richmond, comprised of men (N=7) , naturally cycling women (N=5), and women taking oral contraceptives (N=9). Participants reported to the lab on two occasions, two weeks apart so as to assess the performance differences on the three tasks during the hormonal fluctuations of women’s menstrual and luteal phases. The mental rotations task (MRT), a male favored task, the reading span task (RSPAN), a female favored task, and a perceived stress scale (PSS) were administered on both occasions. There were no significant group or cycle phase differences for the MRT, RSPAN, or PSS. There was a main effect for time for the MRT and the RSPAN, such that participants in all groups performed better during the second session. Future research can further examine this relationship with a larger sample and more reliable methods of assessing hormone levels in order to better understand the relationship between physiological changes in the brain and associated cognitive effects due to oral contraceptive use.
Sears, Kathryn, "The effect of oral contraceptives on performance in sexually dimorphic cognitive tasks" (2013). Honors Theses. 10.