Researchers monitored people’s brain waves with an EEG while they looked at pictures ranging from war photos to pictures of kittens.
Women remember unpleasant events far less accurately than men do, say researchers at the University of Montreal.
Women’s memories blur when it comes to any emotional events, and the effect is particularly pronounced with ‘nasty’ events – simulated in an experiment by war photographs.
Overall, women have a clearer memory of pleasant experiences, whereas men actually remember unpleasant things best.
Men and women also use different sides of the brain to remember the same things. When remembering pleasant events, women use the right and men the left.
Researchers monitored brain activity using an electroencephalograph – EEG – monitor, while volunteers were shown a series of images, ranging from war scenes to kittens to erotic photography.
The volunteers had to push buttons to say if they had seen an image before – which allowed the researchers to see which images people remembered most effectively.
Women’s memories were worst when it came to photos such as war photos which were both highly emotional and unpleasant.
Emotion of any sort appears to disrupt womens’ memories – but the effect is particularly pronounced with negative emotions.
The reason for this is not known.
‘Very few memory studies have looked at how attractive or repulsive we find an experience and how emotionally provocative it is ,’ said author Dr Marc Lavoie, of the University of Montreal.
‘Our test relied on photos – we found firstly that highly emotional pictures blur women’s capacity to determine whether they’ve seen it before, and secondly that women have a clearer memory of attractive experiences than men.’
‘Emotion has an enhancing effect on the memory of men however, as does unpleasantness.’
‘Interestingly, the scans revealed more activity in the right hemisphere of women’s brains for the recognition of pleasant pictures – the opposite of what we witnessed in men’ Lavoie said.
‘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.’