Effects of oral contraceptive androgenicity on visuospatial and social-emotional cognition: A prospective observational trial

Caroline Gurvich, Annabelle M. Warren, Roisin Worsley, Abdul Rahman Hudaib, Natalie Thomas, Jayashri Kulkarni

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Oral contraceptives (OCs) containing estrogen and progesterone analogues are widely used amongst reproductive-aged women, but their neurocognitive impact is poorly understood. Preliminary studies suggest that OCs improve verbal memory and that OCs with greater androgenic activity may improve visuospatial ability. We sought to explore the cognitive impact of OCs by assessing performance of OC users at different stages of the OC cycle, and comparing this performance between users of different OC formulations according to known androgenic activity. We conducted a prospective, observational trial of OC users, evaluating cognitive performance with CogState software on two occasions: days 7–10 of active hormonal pill phase, and days 3–5 of the inactive pill phase (coinciding with the withdrawal bleed resembling menstruation). Thirty-five OC users (18 taking androgenic formulations, 17 taking anti-androgenic) were assessed. Analysis by androgenic activity showed superior performance by users of androgenic OCs, as compared to anti-androgenic OCs, in visuospatial ability and facial affect discrimination tasks. A growing understanding of cognitive effects of OC progestin androgenicity may have implications in choice of OC formulation for individuals and in future OC development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number194
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Androgenicity
  • Cognition
  • Estrogen
  • Oral contraceptive
  • Progesterone
  • Progestin

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