There are gender differences in cognitive abilities. The major enigma is whether males or females perform better in various cognitive tasks. The reports were found to be contradictory. Studies have shown that oestrogen and testosterone accentuate cognitive functions. But the effects of progesterone on cognitive functions are still contradictory. To assess and compare the cognitive functions between male and female students. Cognitive functions which were assessed in males one time and females two times: Data were compared by using Mann-Whitney U-test.
Cognitive functions in female preovulatory phase were comparable to male cognitive functions. In addition, the female postovulatory phase cognitive functions were also similar to those of males in all the tasks, except those seen in VRT and ST. Male performed better than females in VRT M: However, in ST, females showed higher accuracies in reading colour interferences than males M: Male cognitive functions were comparable to female preovulatory phase cognitive functions.
However, females, during postovulatory phase of their cycle, may have advantages in executive tasks Stroop test and disadvantages in attentional tasks VRT , as compared to males. Attention, Menstrual cycle, Stroop test Introduction Mental skills or cognitive abilities include attributes like perception, attention, memory short-term or working and long-term , motor, language, visual and spatial processing, and executive functions [ 1 ].
These cognitive attributes are different in males and females. Generally, females show advantages in verbal fluency, perceptual speed, accuracy and fine motor skills, while males outperform females in spatial, working memory and mathematical abilities [ 2 , 3 ].
In females, mental skills vary during different phases of the menstrual cycle MC [ 4 ]. This is because, in the circulation, the bio-availability of oestrogen is high during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle and that of progesterone is high during the luteal phase. It has been reported that the high levels of gonadal steroids which are present during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle may facilitate skills which favour females, but which are detrimental to skills which favour males [ 5 ].
In addition, studies have also shown that oestrogen and testosterone accentuate cognitive functions in a similar fashion [ 6 ]. Because testosterone is converted to oestrogen in many tissues, including the central nervous system, it could exert its influence directly or indirectly through its conversion to oestrogen via the aromatase enzyme [ 7 , 8.
If not, who performs better in the cognitive tasks? With this question, we compared the male testosterone cognitive tasks with the female preovulatory oestrogen and postovulatory phase progesterone cognitive tasks in medical students who were in the age range of years. Informed consents were taken from all the participants. Volunteers who received steroid hormones or therapy for depression, those who had a history of head injury, stroke, or heart attack were excluded.
Subjects who were enrolled did not report any dysendocrinism or metabolic neoplastic pathologies. Participants were undergraduate and postgraduate medical students. Those who had constant days of menstrual cycles for two months were recruited in the study.
But pregnant or lactating mothers and ladies with drug dependence, in whom steroid hormone secretions or neuronal plasticities were likely to be affected, were excluded.
Females were instructed to note down their menstrual calendars for at least two months, along with their basal body temperatures BBTs , for detecting the days of ovulation. Their cognitive functions were assessed during the preovulatory and postovulatory phases of the cycle. Preovulatory phase cognitive function was tested 2—4 days prior to the expected day of the ovulation and postovulatory cognitive function was tested between days after ovulation, according to their menstrual cycles [ 9 ].
Ovulation was estimated by measuring BBT. Four aspects of cognitive function were assessed in both males and females viz: All tasks were performed by males on the same day, after they were given proper demonstration.
Females performed all the tasks in preovulatory and postovulatory phases of their menstrual cycles. Details of the Tasks That were Assessed are as Follows: Subjects pressed the space bar of the computer key-board on the appearance of a green signal on the screen, for 5 times.
Their average reaction times were then calculated. In other words, response to the alternate stimulus needed to be inhibited. Subjects had to press space bar on appearance of a green signal green dot on the screen and they had to avoid pressing space bar if there was appearance of a pattern signal. It consisted of 12 trials. Results were displayed after averaging responses of all the 12 performed trials.
Subjects had to press the number key that equalled the number of dots which were shown. Dots which were shown were from 4 to 7. The results were displayed after the completion of 12 trials. The Flanker test is an interference task where different inputs compete with the target, thus slowing down the response speed.
This is a basic variant which uses arrows, in which subjects should identify the direction of the centre arrow. Estimated completion time was less than 1 minute per session.