It’s the battle of the sexes! The never ending power struggle between man and woman, but let’s be honest both sexes excel in different areas of life. No matter how much I study for an exam, it always seems that I have a difficult time retaining the information. The opposite can be said when my female counterparts study for an exam. They always seem to do a lot better than I do even when we are in the same classes and we put in the same amount of time studying. What’s even more crazy is that we study together and compare notes. After seeing a pattern, I started to wonder maybe females are more able to spit out information on an exam than males. Of course, this is only a small group of people, but I decided to look into it. I also realized that the differences in memory didn’t just stop at studying, but in males forgetting other things like birthdays, appointments, mailing something, etc.
One researcher out of Hamilton College who dedicates her time to the gender and memory connection attributes it to females being more able to link memory to events that invoke emotions. She discusses how when girls are describing when something happened they are expressing it through their feelings. Females generally are conditioned to elaborate by adding their feelings in their memory-making, which in turn allows them to be able to remember better. This is because memory as Azriel Grysman, the researcher, explains is “a pattern of mental activity, and the more entry points we have to what that pattern might be, the more chances we have to retrieve it.” Such entry points act as triggers to memories by doing something that recalls a past event and how it made you felt. So, how does this fit into the equation? Exams can be an emotional and stressful time for people and actually associating an exam to a memory of freaking out to study for one can keep that knowledge stored in your brain to strive for a passing grade. In other words if you had failed an exam or had been cheated on in the past and then the same thing were to be repeated that would bring about feelings of pain and discomfort, which you wouldn’t want to experience again, therefore change how you combat the situation. Grysman does not state why the same does not apply to males.
A study was performed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and was headed by Professor Jostein Holmen, who rounded up 37, 405 men and women from ages 30 and beyond. The participants were then given a questionnaire consisting of nine total questions that relate to memory. Such questions were of the nature of whether their memory has changed since they were younger or something like if they have problems remembering dates to what events occurred a few days or years ago. The conclusion to the study displayed 1.2% of women reported memory difficulties and that 1.6% of men had problems with memory. Eight of the nine questions had men reporting the most problems. It became apparent that as age progresses the harder it is for men to remember. With that said, they were unable to find a direct link as to why that may be.
Another study seems to only support that men have greater memory struggles than females. In this instance, 1,246 people of normal brain health and who were between the ages of 30 and 95, the researchers discovered that while memory started to decline for both sexes at age 30, male memory was worse than women overall, most notably past the 40 year mark. The hippocampus in males, which is the memory control center of the brain, was smaller in size compared to women. Neurologist Dr. Charles DeCarli, states that “The men’s hippocampus starts off a little bit above average in the young people in the study…But then it falls way below average in the older men as compared to the older women.”
Females have an even greater edge in the brain in the form of hormones that act for protection. The common one is estrogen, which shields from infections, heart disease, hypertension, etc. Males simply don’t have this defense like females do and even if a woman looses this advantage at an older age, they’ve had it for their whole lives up to that point and still have some effects working in their system. Dr Charles DeCarli also offers a hypothetical in saying that it can very well be a possibility that “Women may have developed skills and strategies over our evolutionary development to keep track of stuff that helps their memory that men just never acquired.” Something else to consider is that females aren’t at as much risk for vascular disease as males, which can come from things like smoking, hypertension, or diabetes. Any type of activity that disrupts the vessels will have an negative impact on the brain.