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How hormones affect women’s decision-making

A woman reads the map while  at the domestic check in counter of the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. .
A woman reads the map while at the domestic check in counter of the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. . Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Reading a map is more difficult for women when they’re ovulating and it could be because of their hormones, says a new Concordia University study.

The results of this study, researchers say, could help explain why women are better at giving directions overall than men as well as determine the role estrogen and progesterone play in women’s decision-making.

“Women have sometimes reported to doctors that their memory works differently depending on which phase of the menstrual cycle they are in – even during and following pregnancy, or following menopause,” says Wayne Brake, co-author of the study and psychology professor. “Our research shows that, rather than impairing memory in general, estrogen and progesterone may instead cause the brain to favour one memory system or strategy over another.”

READ MORE: Should women be entitled to time off work during their periods?

The study tested 45 women who had regular periods. First, participants completed a questionnaire about their menstrual cycles, past pregnancies, contraceptive and synthetic hormone intake history and general life habits.

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Participants were then given a verbal memory test that had them remembering a list of words followed by a virtual navigation test that had them solving a maze on a video game.

From the data, researchers found that women who were ovulating performed better on the verbal memory test while women who were pre-menstrual were better at solving spatial navigation tasks.

This showed women use different strategies to solve tasks depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle, researchers say.

“I hope that this study emphasized that more research is needed to deepen our understanding of the female brain,” says Dema Hussain, the study’s lead author, “and that efforts must be made to tailor future research to improve our understanding of the effects of female sex hormones on cognition and memory.”

READ MORE: What it’s like for Canadian women working in tech

Previous research from McMaster University also delved into the female mind and the process of women’s decision-making.

In one 2013 study, researchers found that women make better decisions when competing interests are at play which makes them better corporate leaders.

According to the report, men tend to make decisions using rules, regulations and traditional ways of doing business or getting along. Meanwhile, women are less likely to follow those perimeters and are more willing to rock the boat, making them better at seeing more possible solutions when problem-solving.

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