In 1960, the Food and Drug Administration, the American pharmaceutical agency, approved the first birth control pill. It was legalized in France in 1967. Today more than 100 million women around the world use it.
While research over time has shown that natural hormones have a strong influence on human behavior, less is known about the behavioral effects of synthetic hormones, such as those contained in the pill. A team of researchers looked into the matter and presented the findings in an article originally published by The Conversation US and picked up by ScienceAlert.
Hormonal contraceptives directly affect three hormones related to a competitive attitude: testosterone, progesterone, and a type of estrogen called estradiol. To understand whether the pill had an impact on competitive instinct, the researchers looked at the 46 available studies, which included a measure of this criterion, involving a total of 16,290 participants.
One of the conclusions of this scientific review is that hormonal contraceptives may indeed have effects on women’s motivation and their ability to achieve higher professional status. For example, one of the observed studies shows that women taking the pill have a lower motivation for success. Another shows that they perform poorly on tasks that require perseverance.
In a different area, recent research shows that women who are not taking hormonal contraceptives feel more desirable and sexually attractive mid-cycle, while pill users do not.
Results to take with you
Interesting fact noted by the researchers: the effect of hormonal contraceptives on mating and professional competitiveness appears to be related to the relational status of the participants. A study then revealed that pill use reduced women’s self-reported competitiveness in a relationship, but not that of single women.
However, it is important to specify that the differences in behavior between users and non-users of hormonal contraceptives were generally quite small. Furthermore, scientific research on synthetic hormones remains vast and not very qualitative.
When they did their work, the researchers realized very quickly that almost no available studies used randomized controlled trials, the gold standard for determining the effect of a drug or treatment. And many studies did not take into account fundamental differences between participants, such as their age. Finally, the small sample sizes in most searches make it difficult to generalize to a larger population.
The researchers therefore insist that, due to these limitations, the conclusions of their review are only preliminary.