Belinda Pletzer – Research interests

Main research area: Neuroendocrinology

Research interests:

  • Sex hormone influences on brain and cognition
  • Sex differences, menstrual cycle dependent changes in brain and cognition
  • hormonal contraceptive dependent changes in brain and cognition
  • Stress influences on brain and cognition

For details on these topics visit my ResearchTopic at Frontiers.

Uncovering a principle of cognitive sex differences

Sex differences have been identified in a variety of cognitive domains (verbal abilities, spatial abilites, numerical abilities, memory functions). These differences have in sometimes been explained by sex differences in cognitive strategies. However, only few studies have attempted to link sex differences across tasks. Here, we focus on identifying principles in brain organization that may explain sex differences across different cognitive domains (Pletzer, 2014). The research on this topic is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, FWF projects) and involves two PhD students (Andrea Scheuringer & TiAnni Harris).

Hormonal contraceptives and the brain

Hormonal contraceptives are used by millions of women world-wide. However, while a lot of research has focused on health risks and emotional effects of hormonal contraceptives, the impact of hormonal contraceptives on women’s brain has hardly been investigated (Pletzer & Kerschbaum, 2014). We discovered the first evidence that hormonal contraceptives migh alter a women’s brain structure (Pletzer et al., 2010) and are now trying to fill this research gap by assessing how hormonal contraceptives impact brain strucure, function and behavior.

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Sex hormone influences on higher cognitive functions

Sex difference research has so far focused on basic cognitive abilities and only few studies have identified sex hormone influences on higher cognitive functions, such as cognitive control.
Our research on this topic is incorporated within the PhD Programme “Imaging the Mind” funded by the Austrian Science Funde (FWF) and currently involves one PhD student (Esmeralda Hidalgo-Lopez).

Sex role, sex hormones and cognitive performance

A commen critisicm against sex difference research is that the variation in cognitive performance within men and women is as large or even larger than the variation between men and women. Here we seek to identify, how much of the within-group variation can be attributed to sex role orientation, i.e. a person’s masculinity or femininity. Currently, we are working on the development of adequate diagnostik tools for the identification of sex role orientation, which is of course not only subject to hormonal influences, but also to social norms. This research is centred at the work group for psychological assessment.