Oral Contraceptives Improve Spatial Learning and Anxiety in a Rodent Model Despite Opposing Androgenicity

Morgan Stanley head shot

Name: Morgan Stanley
Major: Psychology
Advisors: Amy Jo Stavnezer, Meredith Hope

Little is known about the effects of oral contraceptives, or “the pill,” on cognition and anxiety. The research that does exist on these topics most often ignores the different types of the pill. Progestin, one of the hormonal components of the pill alongside estrogen, can be androgenic or antiandrogenic. Androgenic progestins act like androgens, such as testosterone, and can produce masculinizing effects on the brain that change structure and function. Antiandrogenic progestins produce opposite, feminizing effects. Masculinizing effects are associated with better spatial ability, which suggests that androgenicity plays a role in spatial performance. Despite this, studies on oral contraceptives and cognition do not differentiate between these types of progestins. Clinical and animal studies have also demonstrated an effect of oral contraceptives on anxiety which may be dependent on the type of pill used. In the present study, adolescent female rodents were treated with either an androgenic oral contraceptive, an antiandrogenic oral contraceptive, or no drug. All animals given oral contraceptives, regardless of androgenicity, performed significantly better in the spatial learning task. These animals also showed significantly less anxiety compared to control animals. Future research should focus on replicating these findings and looking at progestins by themselves to understand how androgenicity may impact the brain and behavior without estrogen. These findings imply that oral contraceptives can alter cognition and anxiety, which should be relayed to individuals who use these medications.

Posted in Comments Enabled, Independent Study, Symposium 2023 on April 14, 2023.

3 responses to “Oral Contraceptives Improve Spatial Learning and Anxiety in a Rodent Model Despite Opposing Androgenicity”

  1. Bryan Karazsia says:

    Dear Morgan – Interesting link to mental health here…gives me much to think about. Thanks for sharing your work with us. Wishing you well on your symposium day!

  2. Debbie Espinosa says:

    What a fascinating topic! I hope others can expand on your research since it raises so many interesting questions.

  3. Beth Anderson says:

    Morgan, Congratulations on completing your IS! Considering “the Pill” has been available for so long, it’s amazing that we are still lacking knowledge on this topic. Enjoyed reading about your research!