Estrogen as a Mediator of the Relationships Between Multitasking, Attention and Verbal Reasoning

Esmeralda Aguilera, Daniel Gallo, Dr. Barbara Thayer, and Dr. Susan Beers


Previous studies have shown fluctuations of estradiol during the menstrual cycle may affect cognitive functions that rely on the prefrontal cortex. Estrogens levels have powerful effects on cognition, modulating many aspects of brain structure and function (Korol & Pisani, 2015), which may affect attention, memory and other cognitive functions. This study investigated the role of estrogen among multitasking performance, verbal reasoning and attention skills. We predicted that higher estrogen levels would decrease performance on a test of multitasking ability and on an attentional measure, but would enhance verbal reasoning skills. Saliva samples were collected to quantitate estrogen levels. Participants were grouped by menstrual phase based on day of menstrual cycle on the day of testing. Phase 1, menstrual, is from 27 days after the last period to 9 days after the last period; Phase 2, ovulation, is 10 to 15 days after the last period; and Phase 3, post-ovulation, is from 16 to 26 days after the last period. Participants completed the Multitasking Assessment Test (MTAT), where response times are measured as multiple objects are classified into bins based on various features. Participants also completed a verbal reasoning test comprised of 24 questions from the GRE Verbal Reasoning practice book. Finally, a version of Eriksen’s Flanker Inhibitory Control (FIC) task was performed, where visual attention was evaluated by measuring response times to congruent and incongruent stimuli. Preliminary findings indicated that cycle phase significantly impacted verbal reasoning scores [F(2,41)= 3.798, p < .03] where Phase 3 scores were lower than those in Phases 1 and 2. No significant effect of phase was observed on MTAT response times [F(2,41)= 1.721, p > .05], or average FIC response times [F(2,41)=1.071, p > .05].Performance on the MTAT was weakly correlated with verbal reasoning scores (r = -.266, p &lt;.05) but not with FIC response times (r = .145, p> .05).

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