The recent researches have detailed the multifaceted alterations in maternal brains affecting the female cognitive function in general and spatial perception in particular. Showing the structural changes during the first few months of pregnancy, these studies make attempts to explain the underlying reasons of these modifications and major influential factors having impact upon these processes.
The results of most studies have demonstrated the direct relationship between the female reproductive status, hormonal changes and improvement of spatial perception in mothers regarding both offspring-directed and non-offspring directed components of the maternal behavior.
There is a link between hormonal fluctuations and alterations in structure of hippocampal neurons and corresponding improvement of cognitive function (Kinsley et al., 2006; Lemaire et al., 2006; Kinsley and Lambert, 2008).
However, evaluating the results of their research, Christensen and Leach (2010) concluded that there is no relationship between pregnancy and changes in women’s spatial perception, explaining the results of other studies supporting the opposite hypothesis with the limitations of research design and biased sampling.
After investigation of the alterations in maternal brains and corresponding improvement of spatial perception, it has been concluded that these neural changes are preserved long after the last pregnancy (Macbeth and Luine, 2006; Pawluskiet al. 2009). It means that motherhood experience has a positive impact upon women’s cognitive function in general.
Taking into account the fact that the neuronal alterations affect both offspring-directed and non-offspring directed activities and are preserved throughout the woman’s lifespan, it can be concluded that the improvement of spatial perception is important for ensuring offspring survival but is predetermined with the motherhood-induced processes in the female organism as opposed to theories linking these shifts with instinctual state (Kim et al., 2010).
Pawluski, Walker and Galea (2008) concluded that the maternal behavior which is necessary for achieving reproductive success and taking care of offspring is a significant influential factor affecting the female cognition function and spatial perception. Bodensteiner et al. (2006) in their turn have proven that reproductive status has more impact upon working spatial memory. In general, the neural changes, improvement of spatial perception and the behavior necessary for successful fulfillment of maternal functions are interrelated.
Analyzing the mechanisms of neuronal alterations in major sectors of pregnant women’s brains, the researcher determined major influential factors affecting the intensity of changes. Thus, in the first place, the reproductive status and age have been identified as the main parameters having impact upon the changes in mothers’ spatial perception (Pawluski et al., 2009).
The diet peculiarities in general and the zinc substance in particular are recognized as another significant factor having effect upon the mechanisms of neuronal changes. Stoecker et al. (2009) concluded that zinc deficiency is an important parameter which needs to be taken into consideration for investigating the cognition in pregnant women.
The foetal sex is recognized as one more influential factor affecting the spatial perception in pregnant women. Vanston and Watson (2005) concluded that women pregnant with boys demonstrated better results in spatial perception tests that those pregnant with girls, explaining these findings with the level of foetal testosterone affecting the mother’s cognition.
Taking into account the human sex differences in spatial perception, it can be hypothesized that testosterone can be regarded as an important influential factor having impact upon the choice of cues for spatial orientation (Herman and Wallen 2007).
Bodensteiner, K., Cain, P., Ray, A., and Hamula, L. (2006). Effects of pregnancy on spatial cognition in female Hooded Long-Evans rats. Hormones and Behavior, 49(3): 303-314.
Christensen, H. and Leach, L. (2010). Cognition in pregnancy and motherhood: prospective cohort study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 196: 126-132.
Herman, R. and Wallen, K. (2007). Cognitive performance in rhesus monkeys varies by sex and prenatal androgen exposure. Hormones and Behaviour, 51 (4): 496-507.
Kim, P., Leckman, J. F., Mayes, L. C., Feldman, R., Wang, X., & Swain, J. E. (2010). The plasticity of human maternal brain: Longitudinal changes in brain anatomy during the early postpartum period. Behavioral Neuroscience, 124, 695–700.
Kinsley, C. and Lambert, K. (2008). Reproduction-induced neuroplasticity: Natural behavior and neuronal alterations associated with the production and care of offspring. Journal of Endocrinology, 20 (4): 515-525.
Kinsley, C., Trainer, R., Stafisso-Sandoz, G., Quadros, P., Marcus, L., and Hearon, C. (2006). Motherhood and the hormones of pregnancy modify concentrations of hippocampal neuronal dendritic spines. Hormones and Behavior, 49(2): 131-142
Lemaire, V., Billard, J., Dutar, P. and George, O. (2006). Motherhood-induced memory improvement persists across lifespan in rats but is abolished by a gestational stress. European Journal of Neuroscience, 23 (12): 3368-74.
Macbeth, A. and Luine, V. (2006). Changes in anxiety and cognition due to reproductive experience: A review of data from rodent and human mothers. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral reviews, 34(3): 452-467.
Pawluski, J., Brummelte, S., Barha, C., and Crozier, L. (2009). Effects of steroid hormones on neurogenesis in the hipo0campus of the adult female rodent during the estrous cycle, pregnancy, lactation and aging. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 30 (3): 343-357.
Pawluski, J., Walker, S., and Galea, L. (2008). Reproductive experience differentially affects spatial reference and working memory performance in the mother. Hormones and Behavior, 49(2): 143-149.
Stoecker, B., Abebe, Y., Hubbs, L., Kennedy, T., Gibson, R., Arbide, I., Teshome, A., Westcott, J., Krebs, N. and Hambidge, K. (2009). Zinc status and cognitive function of pregnant women in Southern Ethiopia. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63: 916-918.
Vanston, C. and Watson, N. (2005). Selective and persistent effect of foetal sex on cognition in pregnant women. Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology, 16(7): 779-782.