Although anecdotal reports suggest that associative learning processes are affected by menstrual phase, empirical evidence has been equivocal. Moreover, there is a dearth of research concerning fluctuations of artificial or exogenous female hormones on learning and memory. Therefore, in this preliminary study we assessed learning in women who take oral contraceptives and those who do not during the three phases of the menstrual cycle: early, middle, and later cycle. The behavioral assessment included short-trace eyeblink conditioning, acoustic startle reactivity, and a fine motor coordination task (grooved pegboard). Oral contraceptive users generally acquired the conditioned eyeblink response better than non-users. Similar enhancements were observed for fine motor coordination and startle responsiveness. Further research will need to distinguish whether the hormone influence is upon the associative processes or the sensory-motor pathways involved in nonassociative learning.
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