Have you ever had an argument with someone of the opposite sex and realized that the two of you had different recollections of past events? Well, new research suggests that women may be slightly better than men at remembering certain things, including conversations and people’s faces.
There are many different types of memory that collectively allow humans to survive and thrive in the world we inhabit.
One key type of memory is that which scientists call “episodic.”
“Episodic memories are consciously recollected memories related to personally experienced events,” explain the authors of the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience.
However, not everyone can recall all types of episodic memories equally well.
One way to illustrate this is by thinking about disagreements in heterosexual couples: While one partner may explain that they are upset about a particular event from the past, the other partner may not even remember that the event ever took place.
Many factors can influence a person’s ability to recall episodic memories, among which are age-related cognitive decline and cognitive decline related to preclinical dementia.
However, a person’s biological sex may also play a role, according to a new research from the Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden. The study analyzed evidence from hundreds of studies looking at how members of the two sexes remember episodic information.
The findings, which now appear in the journal Psychological Bulletin, indicate that women are better at remembering certain types of episodic memories than men.
Lead researcher Prof. Agneta Herlitz and team conducted a meta-analysis of 617 studies that took place in 1973–2013, including more than 1.2 million participants overall.
“The results show that there is a slight female advantage in episodic memory, and that advantage varies depending on which materials are to be remembered,” explains first study author Martin Asperholm, a doctoral student at the Karolinska Institutet.
Specifically, women appear to be better at remembering speech, where they left an object, and what happened in a movie. They are also more apt at remembering faces and sensory images. Men, on the other hand, seem to be better at recalling abstract information and navigational data.
“Generally, women perform better when it comes to remembering verbal information, such as words, sentences, texts, and objects, but also the location of objects, and movies. Men can better recall abstract images and remember their way back from one location to another.”
Prof. Agneta Herlitz
“Furthermore, there is a female advantage when it comes to remembering faces and with sensory memories, such as smells,” Prof. Herlitz adds.
Since the data the scientists analyzed indicate that there are indeed subtle differences between what women and men are good at remembering, this could have different effects on their daily lives.
Future research might explore this avenue in an effort to find out whether, or to what extent, members of the two sexes experience the world in distinct ways.