The pill and cognitive impairment

For me, the most remarkable thing is discovering that for fifty years, no one ever bothered to test for negative cognitive effects on women taking the contraceptive pill:

More than 100 million women around the world use oral contraceptives. Over the years, research has been able to explore and identify much of their physical effects, but what about their psychological effects?

Dr. Alexander Lischke of the University of Greifswald, Germany, notes how “remarkably little” is known about the effects of birth control pills on emotion, cognition, and behavior.

As part of a new study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, Lischke and his research team recruited 95 healthy women — 42 of whom were on the pill and 53 who were not — for an emotion recognition task. The aim was to find out if using the pill could have any sort of impairment on their ability to recognize emotions.

“We assumed that these impairments would be very subtle, indicating that we had to test women’s emotion recognition with a task that was sensitive enough to detect such impairments,” he explained. “We, thus, used a very challenging emotion recognition task that required the recognition of complex emotional expressions from the eye region of faces.”

Both groups of women had no problem in recognizing basic expressions like those of happiness or fear. But when it came to more complex emotional expressions like pride or contempt, women on the pill were 10 percent less accurate compared to their counterparts.

Keep this sort of thing in mind when you assume that just because a drug or a medical regimen is in wide use, its range of adverse effects have been scientifically studied.


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