STOP PRESS: Men and women are different!

We live in confusing times. So much so, that sometimes we lose track of the obvious. New research from the University of Basel is reassuringly supportive of something we women instinctively know to be true – that women experience a more potent response to emotional stimuli than men.

This large scale study, the results of which will be published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, set about establishing the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, brain activity and memory performance.

While it is generally known that women consider emotional events to be more impactful than men, research supporting this and linking it to gender-based recall has been relatively thin on the ground.

Almost 3,400 male and female subjects were asked to rate emotionally charged content, some positive and some negative, for the size of the emotional reaction they evoked.

Women rated the content (especially the negative) as being more emotionally impacting than their male counterparts and, in a subsequent memory test, women could freely recall more of the images than men. Women demonstrated particular facility with recalling positive images.

Dr. Annette Milnik, leader of the team from the University of Basel’s Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences Transfaculty Research Platform noted:

“This would suggest that gender-dependent differences in emotional processing and memory [i.e. the difference between men and women when it comes to emotional processing and memory], are due to different mechanisms.”

To further probe the findings, MRI data from almost 700 of the subjects showed that womens’ stronger reaction to negative emotional content is linked to increased activity in the motor regions of the brain, supporting the common observation that women are more emotionally expressive than men.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I would have been surprised by any other result. Logic tells me that women have babies and, biologically, that makes a difference. As the bearers of children we are fundamentally programmed for nurture, which, of course, has a profound effect on both our biology and our psychology. How could it be otherwise?

That’s not to say that men are not moved by emotional stimuli; nor to say that some male individuals do not emote in the same way that women do (or some women do!). It is simply to say that, as a general rule, emotional processing and memory of emotional content occur differently for women and men.


Written by Jacqui Hogan