Anecdotal reports of women experiencing memory problems during pregnancy have recently been supported by lab research showing that pregnant women under-perform on tests of retrospective memory, such as word learning tasks. What's not been established clearly until now, however, is whether prospective memory is also impaired: that is, the ability to remember to do those things when one planned to - such as keeping appointments and taking medication.
Peter Rendell and Julie Henry tested twenty pregnant women and twenty non-pregnant women on a board game called "Virtual Week" and also on a real life task. The game involves participants remembering to carry out daily tasks and is designed to reveal prospective memory problems. The real life task required the women to "check in" with a portable device at the same four times each day, for a whole week.
Although the pregnant women showed no impairment on the board game, they were significantly impaired at the real life task compared with the non-pregnant women. Moreover, this impairment remained even when the women were tested again 13 months later, after they had given birth. However, a difference at this later testing session was that although they missed the same number of "check-ins", they tended to realise later on the same day that they had done so.
Rendell and Henry told the Digest that pregnant women may be advised to adopt strategies to improve their prospective memory functioning in daily life. "Specific strategies," they said, "include creating external physical cues or imagining vivid cues that can function as alerts, for example: leave a prominent reminder note next to the lock on your office door to help you remember to take home something from work and set a timer to remove food from the oven on time. Another specific strategy is to not delay carrying out an intended task once it has been brought to mind. Research has shown that even brief delays involving several seconds can substantially reduce the chances of the intended action being successfully carried out."
Peter Rendell, Julie Henry (2008). Prospective-memory functioning is affected during pregnancy and postpartum Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 30 (8), 913-919 DOI: 10.1080/13803390701874379
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.