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J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2010 Nov;32(9):986-95. doi: 10.1080/13803391003662694. Epub 2010 Apr 19.

Executive functioning and general cognitive ability in pregnant women and matched controls.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617, USA.


The current study compared the performances of pregnant women with education- and age-matched controls on a variety of measures that assessed perceptual speed, short-term and working memory capacity, subjective memory complaints, sleep quality, level of fatigue, executive functioning, episodic and prospective memory, and crystallized and fluid intelligence. A primary purpose was to test the hypothesis of Henry and Rendell (2007) that pregnancy-related declines in cognitive functioning would be especially evident in tasks that place a high demand on executive processes. We also investigated a parallel hypothesis: that the pregnant women would experience a broad-based reduction in cognitive capability. Very limited support was found for the executive functioning hypothesis. Pregnant women scored lower only on the measure of verbal fluency (Controlled Oral Word Association Test, COWAT) but not on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task or on any working memory measures. Furthermore, group differences in COWAT performance disappeared after controlling for verbal IQ (Shipley vocabulary). In addition, there was no support for the general decline hypothesis. We conclude that pregnancy-associated differences in performance observed in the current study were relatively mild and rarely reached either clinical or practical significance.

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