September 26, 2010
Estrogen Spikes During Ovulation Reduce Learning

Higher estrogen during ovulation reduces the ability of female rodents to pay attention.

Montreal September 24, 2010 Feeling a little sluggish and having trouble concentrating? Hormones might be to blame according to new research from Concordia University published in the journal Brain and Cognition. The study shows that high estrogen levels are associated with an inability to pay attention and learn the first such paper to report how this impediment can be due to a direct effect of the hormone on mature brain structures.

"Although estrogen is known to play a significant role in learning and memory, there has been no clear consensus on its effect," says senior author Wayne Brake, an associate professor at Concordia's Center for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology. "Our findings, using a well-established model of learning called latent inhibition, shows conclusively that high estrogen levels inhibit the cognitive ability in female rodents."

Since something similar happens with human females the researchers are happy that they've established a rodent model to use to study estrogen's effects on the brain.

Human females have high estrogen levels while they are ovulating. These high levels have also been shown to interfere with women's ability to pay attention.

Since very few ovulations result in pregnancy and most of the time women do not want to become pregnant while ovulating the interference in learning ability caused by estrogen imposes a big cost with perhaps no benefit most of the time. A method to either block the estrogen surge or block its cognitive effects would raise the mental performance of millions of ovulating women.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 26 11:48 AM  Brain Sex Differences

Michael L said at September 26, 2010 3:03 PM:

another time when estrogen levels are high is pregnancy. I see some websites claim that they are actually higher than during ovulation.

That would provide a sciency explanation for the empirical observation that pregnant college girls don't do well academically. In Russian academic culture there is even an idiom that means "to pass the oral final exam by being pregnant" (with many of the exams traditionally oral and not written the prof has a lot of discretionary ability to pass or fail you if he feels like it, and apparently they go very easy on the pregnant students).

random said at September 27, 2010 8:23 AM:

My wife is a very intelligent woman with a college degree, but during pregnancies she was unable to even balance a check book. At times it seemed that basic math, reasoning, navigating a map, and a few other skills completely eluded her. It was frustrating to her and baffling to me, but it's interesting to know the culprit may have been estrogen.

Resveratrol said at September 27, 2010 2:14 PM:

@random: that is just... woah. Extremely frustrating. Not only do women have to deal with PMS but also limited cognitive performance during ovulation? It's like they're mother natures personal torture toy.

Bad Penny said at September 30, 2010 3:42 PM:

As long as Randall is being heretical, let me join in. Girl hormones make you stupid. I used to be able to beat my genius spouse at chess about half the time. Once I got pregnant I never beat him again. Not even close. Gave up after a few years. Then our son started beating him all the time by the time he was 5. Now I feel like menopause is giving me my brain back. Sometimes being a girl sucks. I demand reparations and a tax break. (kidding!)

CaroJ said at October 1, 2010 10:26 AM:

Bad Penny,

As a "girl" (really??), you must really hate yourself.

It's funny how WOMEN do better, on average, than men in college. Estrogen must not be too much of a handicap.

Bad Penny said at October 4, 2010 1:56 PM:

CaroJ, women in college generally haven't given birth yet. Try doing something academically challenging when you're eight months pregnant and then get back to me. And once you're over 40 you'll be glad to be called a girl.

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