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article imageStudy: Birth control pills affect emotional memory

By Kathleen Blanchard     Sep 10, 2011 in Health
Women taking birth control pills remember emotional events differently than women who don’t take oral contraceptives. In their study, scientists found birth control pills affect a woman’s recall of emotional events.
From the investigation, it seems contraceptive pills may affect a woman’s memory to recall events more like men do.
The scientists are quick to point out birth control pills don’t damage memory. Rather, the hormones alter the type of information women retain – particularly in response to emotional events.
The finding, which comes from researchers at University of California, Irvine, may explain why women experience higher rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome than men.
Birth control pills cause lower levels of the reproductive hormones progesterone and estrogen.
The hormones are linked to women’s “strong” left brain memory, found in past studies conducted by neurobiologist Larry Cahill, which show men and women remember things differently.
The authors explain men tend to remember the gist of an emotional event, whereas women generally remember details.
Pauline Maki, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who specializes in memory and brain functioning said, “The fact that women on oral contraceptives remembered different elements of a story tells us that estrogen has an influence on how women remember emotional events.”
In their study, published in “Neurobiology of Learning and Memory”, the scientists found women taking birth control pills recalled fewer details of a traumatic event, compared to women not on oral contraceptives.
Women were shown photographs of a mother and son involved in a car accident. Some women in the group were told the car hit a curb, while others were told the boy was struck by the car and critically injured.
A week later, the women were tested to see what they remembered about the event.
Women not taking contraceptives had better memory about details – for instance they recalled a fire hydrant at the scene.
Women taking birth control pills, even for one month, recalled only the gist of the scenario.
Cahill said, “This new finding may be surprising to some, but it’s a natural outgrowth of the research we’ve been doing on sex differences for 10 years.”
The scientists say men use their right brain to encode memories. Women use the left brain hemisphere. Birth control pills may affect a woman’s memory in a way that makes them remember the same as men.
The researchers note more than 100 million women use birth control pills worldwide.
The study suggests birth control pills affects memory, causing women to have better general recall of emotional events – much like men. Women who were not on birth control pills had better recall of emotional event details.
More about Birth control pills, Memory, university of california
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