Emerging research suggests women remember faces better than men, perhaps because they spend more time studying features without even knowing it.
Investigators from McMaster University say that studying facial features can help improve anyone’s memories. This technique may provide significant benefit to older adults or to anyone experiencing memory decline.
The findings help to answer long-standing questions about why some people can remember faces easily while others quickly forget someone they’ve just met.
“The way we move our eyes across a new individual’s face affects our ability to recognize that individual later,” said Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D.
“Our findings provide new insights into the potential mechanisms of episodic memory and the differences between the sexes. We discovered that women look more at new faces than men do, which allows them to create a richer and more superior memory,” Heisz said.
Researchers used a technique and technology that measure eye movements. The eye tracking technology was used to monitor where study participants looked — be it eyes, nose or mouth — while they were shown a series of randomly selected faces on a computer screen.
Each face was assigned a name that participants were asked to remember. One group was tested over the course of one day, another group tested over the course of four days.
“We found that women fixated on the features far more than men, but this strategy operates completely outside of our awareness. Individuals don’t usually notice where their eyes fixate, so it’s all subconscious,” Heisz said.
The implications are exciting, she said, because it means anyone can be taught to scan more and potentially have better memory.
“The results open the possibility that changing our eye movement pattern may lead to better memory,” said the researchers.
That is, we may be able to improve our memory by learning to scan or look at things more carefully.
“Increased scanning may prove to be a simple strategy to improve face memory in the general population, especially for individuals with memory impairment like older adults.”
Source: McMaster University