Effects of oral contraceptives and natural menstrual cycling on environmental learning

Filippo Bianchini, Paola Verde, Stefano Colangeli, Maddalena Boccia, Felice Strollo, Cecilia Guariglia, Giuseppe Bizzarro, Laura Piccardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Endogenous ovarian hormones as well as exogenous oestradiol and progesterone play an important role in cognitive processing. Specifically, these hormones play a role in different aspects of memory, both in terms of storage capacity and temporal duration of the mnemonic track. These hormones also have various effects on different types of memory (i.e., verbal, visuo-spatial, prospective). This study investigated the effects of hormones on topographic memory, a type of memory specifically needed to recall a pathway and to acquire spatial information about locations, distances, and directions. METHODS: We compared 25 naturally cycling women (NCW) in two different cycling phases, the early follicular phase (4th - 5th days) and the mid-luteal phase (20th-21st days), with 26 women taking oral contraceptives (OC) tested in the active pill phase (20th to 21st day of OC cycle) and the inactive pill phase (2nd to 4th day of OC cycle). Both groups performed the Walking Corsi Test to assess topographic memory in their respective cycling phases. Women were instructed to learn an eight-step sequence path and recall the path five minutes later. RESULTS: We found that the two groups differed in terms of learning the 8-step sequence path; OC users were always better (4-5 days vs. 20-21 days) than NCW. No differences emerged in the delayed recall of the same path. CONCLUSIONS: As already observed in other memory domains (i.e., verbal memory, emotional memory), OC users showed an advantage in terms of topographic learning. Our results might be explained by hormonal mechanisms and may suggest the future application of OC in women with topographic disorders or visuo-spatial difficulties.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Women's Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 7 2018


  • Exogenous hormones
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Navigational memory
  • Sex differences
  • Spatial orientation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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