Could The Pill Change How Women Remember Things?

09/14/2011 09:23 am ET | Updated Nov 14, 2011
  • Amanda Chan The Huffington Post

The Pill could play a role in how women remember things, according to a new, somewhat small study.

The team of researchers reported observing that women who take birth control pills were better able to remember the "gist" of an emotional event, while women not on birth control were able to better recall the details of that event.

It's important to note that birth control pills were not shown in the study to damage memory -- rather, "it's a change in the type of information they remember, not a deficit," study researcher Shawn Nielsen, of the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement.

The change in memory could occur because birth control pills prevent pregnancy by altering women's sex hormone levels. Those hormones have also been associated with "left brain" memory, researchers said.

In the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory study, 34 women on birth control and 32 women who were naturally cycling looked at pictures of a mother and son and a car accident. Some women were told that the car hit a curb, while the others were told the car hit the boy and left him critically injured.

A week later, all the women were asked about how much they recalled from the pictures and the details of what happened. Women on birth control -- even when they were on the Pill for just a month -- better remembered the main events that happened (for instance, that the boy went to the hospital and then the doctors performed surgery on him to reattach his feet), the study reported.

But the women not on birth control better remembered the smaller details, like that there was a fire hydrant by the car, researchers said.

The Telegraph reported that birth control's effect on the brain has been researched before, and that studies have even suggested that it could enlarge part of the brain to increase a woman's "emotional skills."

However, this is the first study to show the effects of hormonal contraception use on emotional memory, Nielsen said.

And even though the number of people in the study was relatively small, researchers conducted a statistical analysis to find that the size of the effect was "relatively large for a human behavioral study," Nielsen told HuffPost. Researchers plan to continue investigating the effects that hormonal contraception could have on emotional memory.

Birth control pills are 99.9 percent effective when taken correctly and work by preventing a woman's ovary from releasing an egg, thereby making it impossible to join with the sperm, WebMD reported. Side effects can include lighter periods, changes in mood, sore breasts, nausea, weight gain and spotting between periods. More severe side effects include stomach and chest pain, aching legs and severe headaches.