Cognitive changes in pregnancy: mild decline or societal stereotype?



This research compared pregnant and non-pregnant women's perceptions of cognitive change and their performance on 13 sensitive memory and attention tasks (Study 1) and two complex driving simulation tasks (Study 2). The pregnant, but not the non-pregnant, women rated their cognitive abilities as worse than before, but only two performance measures from Study 1 differentiated the two groups (speed of language processing and attentional switching). Study 3 examined beliefs about pregnancy-related cognitive decline. Women and men with and without immediate experience of pregnancy rated pregnant women's cognitive abilities as slightly worse than before pregnancy. Memory ratings were worse from women and from those with immediate experience of pregnancy. It is concluded that there may be some mild effects of pregnancy on performance of some specific cognitive functions but that cultural expectations based on a stereotype of cognitive decline also contribute to pregnant women's perception of cognitive change. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.