When women view emotionally stimulating images, they tend to “feel” them more intensely than men, and are therefore more likely to remember them, according to a new large-scale study by researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
As far as neutral images are concerned, however, there are no gender differences in emotional appraisal.
Previous research has found that emotions exert a strong influence on memory: the more emotional a situation is, the more likely it will be remembered.
It is also well-known that women often find emotional events to be more emotionally stimulating than do men. This raises the question as to whether women often do better than men in memory tests because of the way they process emotions.
Researchers from the University of Basel conducted a study to find out. They focused on determining the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, memory performance and brain activity.
In the study, which involved 3,398 test subjects from four sub-trials, the researchers were able to demonstrate that females rated emotional image content (especially negative content) as more emotionally stimulating than their male counterparts did. They found no gender differences, however, in how participants processed the neutral images.
In another memory test, female participants could freely recall significantly more images than the male participants. Surprisingly though, women had a particular advantage over men when recalling positive images.
“This would suggest that gender-dependent differences in emotional processing and memory are due to different mechanisms,” said study leader Dr. Annette Milnik.
Using data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 696 study participants, the researchers were also able to demonstrate that stronger appraisal of negative emotional image content by the female subjects was linked to increased brain activity in motoric regions.
“This result would support the common belief that women are more emotionally expressive than men,” said Dr. Klara Spalek, lead author of the study.
The study results also help to provide a stronger understanding of gender-related differences in information processing. This knowledge is important, as many neuropsychiatric disorders also demonstrate gender-specific differences.
The study is part of a research project led by professors Dominique de Quervain and Andreas Papassotiropoulos at the University of Basel, which aims to increase the understanding of neuronal and molecular mechanisms of human memory and thereby facilitate the development of new treatments.
The results are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Source: University of Basel