Period pains can reduce women’s attention spans and make them “slightly slower or slightly less accurate”, according to psychologists.
Women who are experiencing menstrual pains will also be less able to switch between multiple tasks, the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology found. The study, which claims to be the first of its kind to look at the effects of period pains on cognitive performance, asked 52 women to complete computer-based tasks when they were not on their menstrual cycle and then when they were.
When women had period pains, they were found to have a lower performance rating overall as they struggled with a range of attention-based jobs such as choosing between competing targets and dividing their attention between two tasks.
Dr Ed Keogh, who led the study, said: “I think the most interesting thing that we found is that this sort of common, everyday pain does have an effect on performance.
“We found across all these tasks a general dampening of performance. They [women who were menstruating] were slightly slower or slightly less accurate then when they’re not in pain.
“This shows that the effects of pain go beyond the sensory experience, affecting what we think and feel.”
The research, published in the journal Pain, shows that the effects of period pain are often overlooked and poorly understood.
Dr Keogh said it highlights the need for more research in this field to measure women’s existing coping strategies for period pain and to work on developing them to remove pain as a barrier to performance.
“If you understand what effects they have then you can try and do something about it,” he said. “We can do more research and look at how common is it? What about everyday tasks? How do people actually cope with it? I suspect they can cope with it very well and find their ways of dealing with it.”
He said some existing strategies that women use involve distracting themselves with TV or music, which can be helpful, as well as catastrophising the pain and worrying about it, which is not an effective coping strategy.
Period pain, or dysmenorrhea, affects more than 40 per cent of women on a regular basis. It is the leading cause of absenteeism from school and work among women in their teens and 20s.
Symptoms can include pain, nausea, and cramping, and up to 15 per cent of women suffering from such pain have reported it to be severe.