Despite studies that claim to prove it doesn’t exist, many pregnant women have suffered from what they believe is “baby brain.” This is the condition that manifests itself in extreme and often embarrassing forgetfulness. Like spending $200 at the grocery store only to come home and leave your bags melting in the car overnight. Or wearing house slippers while you drive to work with your dress hanging out the door.
While the idea that hormones impact thinking is pretty well accepted, researchers have had mixed results in trying to document this so-called “momnesia” during lab studies. In memory testing, most pregnant women do just as well as their non-pregnant counterparts. But when Liisa Galea, who holds a phD in neuroscience, began to suffer memory loss during her own pregnancy, she became convinced it was a real condition worthy of further study.
She and her colleague, Carrie Cuttler, wondered if the problem with previous research might be found in the labs themselves. Perhaps more accurate results would be discovered out in the real world, away from the sterile and controlled environment of the lab. To test their theory, they rounded up 60 pregnant and 24 non-pregnant women for memory testing. These tests took place in the lab and, as expected, the results revealed no difference in the performances of the two groups.
However, when they sent all the women out the door with a homework assignment, the “momnesia” revealed itself. At the end of the lab testing, each woman was given a stamped and addressed envelope and told to put it in the mail the very next day. 70 percent of the non-pregnant women remembered to do so. Slightly more than half of the pregnant women in their second and third trimesters remembered the assignment. Only one in four of those in their first trimester did.
So, does this study discount the hormone theory entirely? Cuttler believes it does.
“Pregnant women can perform on these cognitive tasks with little difficulty when they’re in a sterile, distraction-free environment, where they can focus on the task at hand. But if you put them in the real world where they’ve got … family issues (and) work issues, their attention is much more divided. They have a lot more going on. That’s when you see the deficit.”
So, there you have it. It isn’t your hormones, it’s your schedule. Try to remember that the next time you find your keys in the freezer.
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