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Thursday January 11 1:33 PM ET
Women's Mental Skills Vary During Monthly Cycle

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Hormones may help explain some of the differences in the ways that men and women think, according to a report.

As a rule, women outperform men on tests of verbal skills, while men tend to score better on tests measuring spatial abilities, which include such skills as rotating an object mentally. Some research suggests that the differences may be explained in part by varying levels of hormones in men and women.

In the current study, a group of researchers led by Dr. Markus Hausmann, of Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Germany, set out to determine whether the menstrual cycle has an effect on spatial abilities and if so, what hormones are involved.

In the study, eight women in their 20s and 30s took three different tests of spatial abilities. The women took each type of test on the 2nd and 22nd days of their menstrual cycles, and the researchers measured their hormone levels every 3 days over the course of 6 weeks.

On two of the tests, the women's scores at different times during their cycles did not differ significantly, the authors report in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

But the investigators did detect significant differences in the scores on one test, which measured the ability to recognize rotated versions of a figure. With the exception of one woman, all participants scored higher on the test during the menstrual phase of their cycles, the report indicates.

Hormone levels fluctuate during a woman's cycle, and Hausmann's team found that both testosterone and estrogen were related to the women's spatial scores, the researchers report. Higher levels of estrogen were linked to lower scores, while higher concentrations of testosterone were linked to higher scores.

``We conclude that spatial performance is sensitive to hormonal fluctuations over the menstrual cycle and that different aspects of spatial abilities are related to different hormones or hormone combinations,'' the authors write.

SOURCE: Behavioral Neuroscience 2000;114:1245-1250.

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