London - The contraceptive pill may have an extra, unexpected benefit.
Research has shown that the oral contraceptive seems to boost a woman’s spatial awareness – a skill more usually associated with men.
This “masculinisation” of the female mind could make map reading easier and might also ease marital tensions about the best way to load crockery and cutlery into a crowded dishwasher.
American researchers put nearly 400 men and women through two mental tests. The first was designed to test their spatial awareness and the ability to see a shape in three dimensions. The second looked at verbal skills and involved creating sentences from words with set initials.
Some of the women were not taking the Pill, while the others were either on “monophasic” or “triphasic” pills.
As expected, the men did better than the women on the spatial test. However, the women taking “monophasic” pills – examples of which include Loestrin, Yasmin and Cilest – outperformed the other women.
The team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University say this may be down to them having less of the female sex hormone oestrogen in their bodies. The hormone is thought to suppress spatial skills – meaning that lower levels boost them.
It is thought that levels of oestrogen are particularly low in women on monophasic pills, the journal Hormones & Behavior reports. This could have surprising positive results. A spokesperson for the journal’s publisher Elsevier said: “Fitting luggage into the car boot, or getting those last few cups into the dishwasher may be easier for women taking the oral contraceptive pill.”
However, whether a woman is on the Pill or not, the tests show that she tends to have better verbal skills than the man in her life.
The study is not the first to suggest that the Pill has unexpected effects on the female mind.
Previous research claimed that the hormones in the contraceptive bring out a woman’s jealous side.
Studies have also concluded that the Pill makes women broody and that its hormones suppress interest in masculine men, making boyish males seem more attractive.
Most recently, a study claimed that taking the Pill makes certain areas of women’s brains bigger, including the ‘conversation hub’ and grey matter essential for memory and social skills.
And it is not just women who are affected by the drug. A study found that men feel less attractive if their wife or girlfriend is taking the oral contraceptive. More seriously, in April it was found the that Pill can increase anxiety and depression because the synthetic hormones can shrink the brain.
Two parts of the brain in participants who took the Pill were noticeably thinner – one of which plays an important role in regulating a person’s emotions and their response to rewards, and the other which governs the “internal state”, or inward-directed thought, which helps process emotions and retrieve memories.
It has also been warned that the Pill can increase a woman’s chances of developing multiple sclerosis by up to 50 percent. But it can reduce the likelihood of getting bowel cancer by up to 20 percent.