Men Remember Disturbing, Highly Arousing Experiences Better than Women

Gender stereotyping.
Gender stereotyping: A picture of a girl holding a teddy bear and two boys play fighting. New research has shown differences in memory and brain processes between men and women, revealing more reasons why it's generally believed that girls like dolls and boys like cars. Aislinn Ritchie/ Flickr

Men are more likely to have an accurate memory of unpleasant and emotionally provocative experiences, according to a new psychological study.

However women have a clearer memory of attractive or positive experiences when compared to men.

University of Montreal researchers tested both genders on how valence and arousal affected participants’ memories, like how attractive or repulsive and emotionally provocative an experience might affect their recollections.

The study consisted of four types of images that were different in the levels of valence and arousal that were shown to participants.  Participants were shown a variety of images on a computer screen in the first round, and in the second round participants had to determine whether they’ve seen the picture or not. 

The four categories were "low-valence and low-arousal" like scenes of babies crying, "low-valence and high-arousal," such as war photos, "high-valence and low-arousal," which included pictures of kittens, and finally, erotic photos for the "high-valence and high-arousal" group. Low valence was defined as anything unpleasant, and high valence pictures associated with positive pictures. Arousal was defined by how emotionally provocative a picture is, the more provocative the higher the arousal.

Researchers also connected the participants to electroencephalography (EEG), a system that monitors the brains neuron activity, enabling researchers to observe how a participant’s brain functions as they completed the task.

EEG results revealed that there was more activity in the right hemisphere of women’s brains for the recognition of pleasant pictures, opposite of what was observed in men. 

Researchers found that arousal as well as “low valence” or unpleasantness had an enhancing effect on the memory of men.  However researchers said that “highly arousing pictures” seem to cloud women’s ability to determine whether they’ve seen it before. 

"This challenges earlier studies using unpleasant pictures that revealed more activity in the left hemisphere for women and in the right hemisphere for men. Our findings demonstrate the complexity of emotional memory and underscore the importance of taking valence, arousal, and sex differences into account when examining brain activity," study author Dr. Marc Lavoie, of the University of Montreal Department of Psychiatry, said in a statement.

The study was published online by the International Journal of Psychophysiology on January 18, 2012.

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