How many moms out there have driven to the grocery store, filled your cart with food, gotten to the checkout counter, and realized you left your wallet at home? Or maybe had your phone ring angrily as a friend wonders why you left her waiting at the movies? The "mommy brain" phenomenon is a widespread anecdotal side effect of pregnancy and motherhood, but researchers have come up short in proving it really exists. Recently, however, one Canadian neuroscientist suffered momnesia herself and wanted to get to the bottom of the "disorder."
According to the Montreal Gazette, Liisa Galea from the University of British Columbia decided to expand momnesia research after she repeatedly forgot where she had parked her car while pregnant. Galea is an expert in neuroendocrinology which, according to the story, puts her in a unique position to study the link between pregnancy hormones and human brain function. Galea wanted to figure out how increased concentrations of estrogen might link to this seeming impaired brain function of pregnant women.
Galea's predecessors in this type of research brought scores of pregnant women into laboratories, and Galea did, too. She, like the scientists before her, gave the pregnant and non-pregnant women memory tests, asked them to repeat and remember lists of words and activities. The research team noticed no real discernable difference in the performance of the two groups. Where other researchers have declared mommy brain to be a myth, Galea's colleague Carrie Cuttler wondered if the team was using the wrong environment for the study.
A laboratory is, according to the article, a "sterile, distraction-free environment where [women] can focus on the task at hand." When the women come in for the experiment, the lab might represent "the first moment's peace they've had all week." No surprise, then, that the women did well on memory tests that required focus.
Cuttler and Galea took their research one step further and gave the women some homework: a short questionnaire and a pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelope with instructions to pop it in the mail the next day. The result? The Gazette writes that 70% of the non-pregnant women mailed the survey back while around half of the women in their second or third trimester remembered to do it. And of the mothers in their first trimester, only about a quarter mailed the survey back.
The article quotes Cuttler as saying, "if you put [pregnant women] in the real world where they've got...family issues (and) work issues, their attention is much more divided...That's when you see the deficit." According to Cuttler, hormones and pregnancy might not be the cause of mommy brain at all but instead, it might be "the sheer number of things a pregnant woman has to think about."