Research Finds that Hormonal Contraceptives Can Change How/What Women Remember


Any of us who have ever experienced “pregnancy brain” are likely not surprised to hear that hormones have a direct impact on our memory. Before pregnancy, I had a steel trap memory with perfect recall of what I was wearing and doing on any given day.  After having two children, the steel trap more closely resembles a sieve.

A new study adds proof to the theory that at least some of this is based on hormones.  It found that hormonal contraception alters what women remember about events.  

Researchers from the University of Illinois showed women photographs of a car accident and played them an audio recording of a story. Some women heard a more emotional story in which the car hit and seriously injured a child while others heard a story in which the car just hit the curb. Researchers then called the women a week later and asked what they remembered about what they had seen and heard. 

What they found was that women who were using hormonal contraceptive methods remembered different information than women who were “cycling naturally.”  Specifically, women on hormonal contraception remembered the overall event better, “such as the fact that there had been an accident, who was injured and what the doctors did to save the victims.” In contrast, those not using hormonal contraceptives remembered smaller details better. 

Researchers point out that this is not a deficit – hormonal contraceptives do not destroy a woman’s memory but they do seem to alter how it works.  In fact, in some ways they make a woman’s memory work more like a man’s.

The researchers believe that the finding will help them determine the differences in how men and women process memories and “may help explain why women experience post-traumatic stress syndrome more often than men.”

Yes, but will it help me figure out what on earth I walked into this room for or where I put my keys?

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Follow Martha Kempner on twitter: @MarthaKempner