And all this is true.
However, I now realize this could suggest that in the second half of your cycle you could be, how shall I put this, a bit slow on the draw.
And this is an awful conclusion to make since some misguided people who buy into outdated gender stereotypes could interpret it to mean that women aren’t as sharp as their male counterparts two weeks out of their monthly cycle.
But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s why:
You’re smart in every week of your cycle. The same spelling skills, calculus wizardry, technological know-how and imagination you enjoy during your Week 1 and Week 2 don’t go away once hormones dip in your Week 3 and Week 4. You don’t experience a drop in I.Q. points.
It’s just that in Week 1 and Week 2, your brainiac skills come a bit more effortlessly thanks to hormones revving brain arousal and sending more blood to the brain.
In the other two weeks of your cycle–Week 3 when sedating progesterone is rising and your premenstrual Week 4 when estrogen nosedives–you simply have to work a bit harder to tap into these cognitive abilities.
Plus, even on your worst cycle days, you’re still just as capable and intelligent as males–and even outshine them in some categories.
In a new study in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, 42 female and male medical students were tested on their mental acuity–such as attention, working memory and visual-spatial abilities–at cognitivefun.net (which, incidentally, offers free online tests you can take yourself to measure your own brain sharpness–your boss or teacher can thank me for your lack of productivity today).
Here’s what the researchers found:
During Week 1 and Week 2 in a woman’s cycle, there were no discernible differences between the female and male participants when it came to all brain skills tested.
Not too much of a surprise there.
During all four weeks of a woman’s cycle, there were no significant differences between the sexes when it came to perceptual fast count (how many dots you can count displayed on a screen quickly) working memory (how many items you can remember in your head) and something called an “interference task” where, in this particular test, you have to correctly identify which direction a certain arrow is pointing on a page full of arrows going in other directions.
Okay, so far so good, right?
Wellll, the researchers did find a few differences linked to a woman’s cycle that are worth mentioning:
The men in the study ended up outperforming women who were in their Week 3 and Week 4 when it came to visual reaction time–the ability to see and respond to an object quickly.
The researchers think it may be because a man’s high testosterone heightens this particular ability in him. Personally, I think it has more to do with hours spent in front of an Xbox, which inadvertently honed these skills.
On the other hand, women in their Week 3 and Week 4 ended up outperforming men on something far more complex called a “Stroop test” where you’ve got to name the color of a word–while the word spells out a different color. (Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds.)
The researchers speculate that progesterone may have a protective effect on certain parts of brain cells, making them work better at this particular task.
Now, I may be a bit biased here, but I think being able to outdo a guy on a complex mental task beats noticing a silly ol’ dot faster on any day.
While this is just one study–and I’m bringing it up today because it’s new–there’s actually a bunch of research that supports the notion that you’re smart and capable all cycle long, no matter what week you’re in.
So, the takeaway today is this:
Enjoy how much easier your sharp brain skills come during the first half of your cycle thanks to rising estrogen.
And, when you’re feeling a bit mentally foggy or slow during the second half of your cycle, remind yourself you still have the same mental capabilities that you did in your Week 1 and Week 2. You just need to work a little harder (and maybe drink a little caffeine, go for a brisk walk and/or shut out distractions) to access them.
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