Memory & Cognition 1997,25 (6),801-811
Gender differences in episodic memory
AGNETAHERLITZ Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden Stockholm. Gerontology Research Center, Stockholm, Sweden and University ofStockholm; Stocknolm, Sweden LARS-GORAN NILSSON University ofStockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden Stockholm. Gerontology Research Center, Stockholm; Sweden and Gbteborg University, Gbteborg, Sweden
The relationship between gender and memory has been largely neglected by research, despite occasional studies reporting gender differences in episodic memory performance. The present study examined potential gender differences in episodic memory, semantic memory, primary memory, and priming. Five hundred thirty women and 470 men, randomly sampled from the city of Umea, Sweden, 35-80 years of age, participated in the study. There were no differences between men and women with regard to age or education, or on a measure of global intellectual functioning. As has been demonstrated previously, men outperformed women on a visuospatial task and women outperformed men on tests of verbal fluency. In addition, the results demonstrated that women consistently performed at a higher level than did men on the episodic memory tasks, although there were no differences between men and women on the tasks assessing semantic memory, primary memory, or priming. The women's higher level of performance on the episodic memory tasks could not be fully explained by their higher verbal ability. In 1974, Maccoby and Jacklin published their highly cited work on gender differences in various human abilities and functions. They concluded that girls have greater verbal ability than boys do; that boys excel in visuospatial and mathematical ability; and that males are more aggressive than females. However, Maccoby and Jacklin rejected the hypothesis of gender differences in learning and memory. Since then, virtually no systematic research has been conducted on potential gender differences in memory. In the area oflearning and memory, Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) categorized the studies that they reviewed in terms of conditioning, discrimination learning, pairedassociate learning, oddity problems, probability learning, learning through modeling, incidental learning, and memory. In retrospect, however, if one applies the current, widely used model of five separate but interacting systems (episodic memory, primary memory, semantic memory, priming, and procedural memory; see Schacter & Tulving, 1994, and Tulving, 1983, 1993), a pattern of gender differences does appear in the research reviewed by Maccoby and Jacklin. Specifically, when one examines the studies on episodic memory (i.e., autobiographical records of unique events in the individual's experience encoded in a particular temporal-spatial context), it is clear that there were significant differences favoring females in 17 out ofthe 64 reviewed experiments, whereas only 2 experiments revealed an advantage for males. Tendencies in either direction were not reported. As noted, gender differences in memory performance have seldom been examined explicitly, although gender differences in episodic memory have occasionally been reported. Typically, such gender differences in episodic memory have been found as a by-product of some other research question and have thus not been discussed further. Recent studies reporting gender differences in episodic memory are listed in Table 1. The majority of these studies come from research on adult age differences in memory (Hill et a1., 1995; Hultsch, Masson, & Small, 1991;Larrabee & Crook, 1993; Rabbitt, Donlan, Watson, McInnes, & Bent, 1995; Schaie & Willis, 1993; West, Crook, & Barron, 1992; Zelinski, Gilewski, & Schaie, 1993), but gender differences have also been reported in studies done to evaluate or establish norms for memory tests
This research was supported by grants from the Bank of Sweden...
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