Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Everyday Life Memory Deficits in Pregnant Women

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Everyday Life Memory Deficits in Pregnant Women

Article excerpt

Converging evidence indicates that pregnant women report experiencing problems with memory, but the results of studies using objective measures are ambiguous. The present study investigated potential reason(s) for the discrepancy between findings of subjective and objective memory deficits, as well as potential source(s) of pregnant women's problems with memory. Sixty-one pregnant and 24 nonpregnant women completed a series of memory tests which included field and laboratory measures of prospective memory. Three standardized questionnaires were used to assess subjective aspects of memory. The influence of cortisol, depressed mood, anxiety, physical symptoms, sleep/fatigue, and busyness on pregnancy-related deficits was also examined. The findings revealed objective pregnancy-related deficits on two of the field measures of prospective memory. Pregnancy-related subjective deficits were also detected on all of the questionnaires. In contrast, no objective pregnancy-related deficits were found on the laboratory measures of memory. Increased physical symptoms accounted for one of the objective deficits in memory, while depressed mood and physical symptoms accounted for two of the subjective memory deficits. Collectively, these findings suggest that pregnant women experience everyday life problems with memory that are not readily detected in the laboratory environment. The predominant use of laboratory tests may explain the myriad of previous failures to detect objective deficits in pregnant women's memory.

Keywords: pregnancy, memory, prospective memory, physical symptoms, mood

Mots-clés : grossesse, mémoire, mémoire prospective, symptômes physiques, humeur

Deficits in cognition are so frequently reported by- pregnant women that terms such as "baby brain" and "maternal amnesia" have been coined to describe their perceived memory loss and absentmindedness. Findings of self-reported cognitive deficits during pregnancy are robust. A recent review found that 50-80% of pregnant women perceived some degree of cognitive disturbance during pregnancy, with deficits in memory being the most prevalent (Brett & Baxendale, 2001), and a meta-analysis revealed a significant effect of pregnancy on subjective memory (Henry & Rendell, 2007).

In contrast to the evidence for pregnancy-related subjective deficits, the results from studies using objective measures are less clear cut. Table 1 provides a summary of the studies using objective tests to assess memory in pregnant women; it shows that for most memory domains null findings are more common than objective deficits. The table also reveals a paucity of research on prospective memory. Our goal for the present study was to better understand the subjective and objective deficits in memory associated with pregnancy. Specifically to illuminate the reason(s) for the discrepant findings that have been reported, as well as to explore potential contributors to deficits. We also aimed to increase understanding of pregnant women's prospective memory functioning.

It is possible that the widespread expectation that pregnancy is accompanied by memory deficits may contribute to the greater prevalence of subjective than objective deficits (Crawley, 2002; Crawley, Grant, & Hinshaw, 2008). Expectations about memory failures may lead women to attribute normal everyday slips in memory to their state of pregnancy and therefore to overestimate the frequency of experiencing failures.

It is also possible that the difference in findings from subjective and objective measures of memory is not reliable. Brindle, Brown, Brown, Griffith, and Turner (1991) and Sharp, Brindle, Brown, and Turner (1993) have found significant positive correlations between pregnant women's objective memory test performance and their subjective reports of memory deficits. These correlations raise the possibility that pregnancy-related deficits on objective tests are real (i.e., they are more than a mass-media inspired belief), that pregnant women may be providing accurate reports of their everyday life memory failures. …

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