People love to slam women who are on their periods. We’ve seen this time and time again. When a woman stands up for herself and someone asks if it’s “that time of the month." When a significant other talks about being “afraid” of their partner when she’s on her period. When a certain politician remarked that there was “blood coming out of her wherever” when an interviewer challenged him.

This is such a societal touchstone, women even do it themselves. Think about it: Have you ever joked about becoming possessed by a demon when it’s that time of the month? I think we all have. The assumption is that when a woman is menstruating, she’s the worst version of herself — angry, emotional, moody, slothlike.

woman putting menstrual pad in her back pocket

But, if recent research is any indication, we’ve actually gotten some of it wrong. Because yes, periods have very real effects on our physical, mental and emotional state — they’re painful, they can cause mood swings and cravings, and they affect our energy levels.

But our periods may also make us even more cognitively sharp, at least according to a new study.

This study, which appears in Neuropsychologia, suggests that visuospatial and anticipatory processes may fluctuate throughout a person’s menstrual cycle — and may actually be the sharpest during the menstrual phase.

According to the study’s abstract, existing research indicates that a female athlete’s odds of injury may fluctuate due to hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle, and other research indicates that spatial cognition (or the ability to gain and use knowledge about our environments) may fluctuate in a similar way. Authors surmise that these two factors could be connected — as diminished spatial awareness could increase a person’s odds of getting injured. 

To gain a clearer picture, a group of 394 were surveyed (after exclusions, 248 participants were included) and asked to complete an online cognitive battery, a mood scale, and a symptom questionnaire twice, with the tests spaced 14 days apart. The participants self-reported menstrual phase, and the cognitive battery observed traits like reaction times and timing anticipation. 

woman holding up a menstrual pad and a tampon

The results found no difference between males and females in reaction times or accuracy, but the researchers did find that women performed better during their menstrual phase as compared to other phases of their cycles. The results actually indicated slower reaction times and poorer timing anticipation during the luteal phase.

“Participants exhibited better overall cognitive scores during menstruation, even though they reported poorer mood and symptoms during this phase, and perceived that their symptoms were negatively affecting their cognitive performance,” the study’s authors write. “In contrast, less optimal performance on cognitive tasks was observed in the late follicular and luteal phases, with differential effects between cognitive subdomains, and worse overall performance in the luteal phase, particularly in the novel sport-related task of spatial timing anticipation.”

In short? Mentally, women are more agile when on their periods, according to these findings.

Of course, this is just one piece of research and doesn’t necessarily prove this link, but it is a really interesting one — mainly because it challenges this long-held idea that we are our worst selves while menstruating. 

This particular study was designed to learn more about whether athletes are more prone to injuries during certain phases of their cycle, but researchers believe these findings can be applied to non-athletes as well. 

two women strolling and laughing

Everyone experiences period symptoms differently, but many of us feel pretty awful during our menstrual phase, with fatigue, menstrual cramps, migraines, and a whole slew of other unpleasant symptoms running the show — but, if this research is any indication, we may be at our sharpest and most capable at that time, regardless of how we may be feeling.

“Research suggests that female athletes are more likely to sustain certain types of sports injuries during the luteal phase and the assumption has been that this is due to biomechanical changes as a result of hormonal variation. But I wasn’t convinced that physical changes alone could explain this association,” said Flaminia Ronca, PhD, lead study author and an associate professor at the University College London in an abstract for this study. “What is surprising is that the participant’s performance was better when they were on their period, which challenges what women, and perhaps society more generally, assume about their abilities at this particular time of the month.

Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.