Cognitive Performance and the Menstrual Cycle

  • Barbara Sommer

Abstract

The headline on the New York Times declared: “Female sex hormone is tied to ability to perform tasks” (“Female sex hormone...,” 1988). It was on the front page where everyone glancing at a newsstand copy would see it—right next to a photograph of the President of the United States. My own local newspaper announced “Sex hormones, women’s thinking linked in study” (“Sex hormones...,” 1988). The sex hormones in question were those that fluctuate during the menstrual cycle, and the conclusion was based upon a study of women’s performance across the menstrual cycle. Previous reviews had indicated that the menstrual cycle has virtually no impact on objectively measured cognitive performance (Sommer, 1982a, 1983), a conclusion similar to that of Hollingworth’s dissertation in 1914, of Lough’s dissertation in 1937, and of Seward’s 1944 review article in Psychological Bulletin. Nevertheless, at the end of 1988, it was news. This readiness to connect intellectual impairment with the menstrual cycle underscores the point made by John Richardson toward the end of Chapter 1, that there is a persistent and widespread popular belief in the notion of paramenstrual cognitive debilitation.

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  • Barbara Sommer

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