Circulating gonadal hormones have been linked to variation in the structure and function of the adult human brain, raising the question of how cognition is affected by sex hormones in adulthood. The impacts of progestogens and estrogens are of special interest due to the widespread use of hormone supplementation. Multiple studies have analyzed relationships between ovarian hormones and mental rotation performance, one of the largest known cognitive sex differences; however, results are conflicting. These discrepancies are likely due in part to modest sample sizes and reliance on self-report measures to assess menstrual cycle phase. The present study aimed to clarify the impact of progestogens and estrogens on visuospatial cognition by relating mental rotation task performance to salivary hormone concentrations. Across two studies totaling 528 naturally-cycling premenopausal women, an internal meta-analysis suggested a small, positive effect of within-subjects changes in progesterone on MRT performance (estimate = 0.44, p = 0.014), though this result should be interpreted with caution given multiple statistical analyses. Between-subjects differences and within-subject changes in estradiol did not significantly predict MRT. These results shed light on the potential cognitive effects of endogenous and exogenous hormone action, and the proximate mechanisms modulating spatial cognition.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Behavioral Neuroscience