Science says women are smarter when they’re on their periods


Being on your period may make you feel terrible, but new research suggests there’s a hidden and unexpected perk: It can make you smarter.

That’s the main takeaway from a new study published in the journal Neuropsychologia. The study asked women to complete a series of cognitive tests 14 days apart, to try to hit at different times in their cycle. Overall, the researchers found that women on their periods had faster reaction times and made fewer errors, even though they likely felt worse.

That’s great news for women around the world who don’t exactly love getting their period. But why is this the case? Here’s what to know.

What did the study find?

Researchers at University College London and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health collected data on reaction time and error from 241 women who did a slew of cognitive tests 14 days apart. The study participants also completed mood scales and questionnaires about their symptoms. Researchers used period-tracking apps to estimate which phase of their cycle participants were in when they took the tests, which were designed to mimic the mental processes that are standard in team sports.

The tests were pretty simple. In one, participants were shown smiling or winking faces and asked to press the space bar only when they saw a smiley face. (This tested inhibition, attention, reaction time, and accuracy.)

In another test, they were asked to identify mirror images in a 3D rotation task, which looked at their spatial cognition. (Spatial cognition is a complex set of processes that allow people to visual a task.)

There was also a test that asked the women to click when two moving balls collided on a screen.

The study participants said they felt worse when they were on their periods. They also assumed that this made them perform worse—but the opposite was true. Women had faster reaction times and made fewer errors when they were on their periods.

On the flip side, their reaction times were slower during the luteal phase, which starts after ovulation and leads up to the start of your period.

Why did women perform better while they are on their periods?

It’s not totally clear. The researchers just found a link—they didn’t figure out why it exists.

‘There are many hormones going up and down throughout the cycle,’ says Flaminia Ronca, PhD, lead study author and an associate professor at the University College London. ‘One of these hormones is progesterone, which peaks during the luteal phase and comes back down during menstruation.’

Progesterone can mess with your cerebral cortex, which plays a key role in your memory, thinking, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, emotions, and consciousness, Ronca says. That ‘probably explains why we are seeing slower reaction times in the luteal phase, and faster during menstruation once progesterone has come down,’ she explains.

Why are women more prone to injuries while they are in the luteal phase of their cycle?

The study was actually inspired by previous sports medicine research that found women are at a greater risk of sports injuries when they’re in the luteal phase (the time between ovulation and your period). It’s not entirely clear why this happens, but it could be linked to the hormonal changes that happen during your cycle, Ronca says.

‘According to our study, the timing of movements might be less accurate during the luteal phase, which I think could be contributing to the greater incidence of injuries in this specific phase,’ she says. ‘We need more studies to confirm this.’

Are the results applicable to non-athletes?

While the study was inspired by athletes, Ronca says the findings apply to everyone who has a period. ‘Timing a movement is relevant to everyday life,’ she says.

What are the takeaways from the study?

The main takeaway is that women can step up to the plate, even when they’re feeling their worst. But beyond that, the study suggests that you may be performing better than you think while you’re on your period.

‘How you feel does not determine how you are going to perform, at least at a cognitive level,’ Ronca says.

This Story First Appeared At Womens Health Mag

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