Memory Differences between Males and Females


This study will attempt to examine potential differences between males and females in object memory by using 3-dimensional object arrays and recall. There will be two different groups consisting of different arrays. The control group has a gender neutral array while the experimental group has a gender specific array of an equal ratio of male to female objects. We expect each gender to have greater object memory for their specific gender array. A paper and pencil test will be used for participants to recall the various objects on the tray. We hypothesize that each gender will perform better at memory of their specific gender items and females will perform better overall.


Numerous studies have shown females to outperform males in memory tasks of spatial arrays, verbal episodic memory, object memory, and location memory whereas males perform better at mental rotation and visuospatial episodic memory tasks (Eals & Silverman, 1994; Herlitz, Airaksinen, & Nordstrom, 1999; Lewin, Wolgers, & Herlitz, 2001; Levy, Astur, & Frick, 2005; Witryol & Kaess, 1957). There is a known difference that occurs between genders regarding memory.

Sex differences between males and females and their spatial abilities began many years ago in part due to their division of life roles (Eals & Silverman, 1994, p.9). Males were the hunters and females the gatherers; each requiring their own set of spatial skills. Males needed to be able to orient themselves to objects and places. Females on the other hand needed to recognize and be able to remember various spatial relationships. Females are found to consistently outperform males in studies of memory of spatial arrays (Eals & Silverman, 1994, p.9). This genetic component to memory was vital for the survival of humans.

There have been studies done regarding brain activity in regards to gender of animals. One study took human participants and had them complete a virtual maze. They measured the brain activity during the experiment and found that males and females use different parts of their brains for different tasks (Grön, Wunderlich, Spitzer, Tomczak, & Riepe, 2000). Since it is evident that brain activity varies between genders, we can hypothesize that males and females may use their memory in different ways too.

Previous studies have shown females to perform better than males at verbal episodic memory tasks, including: “Word recall, word recognition, story recall, name recognition, and concrete picture recall and recognition” (Lewin, Wolgers, & Herlitz, 2001, p.1). Females tend to do better at what they can verbalize while males are good at visuospatial memory. The study found females were better able to demonstrate facial recognition and object recall, while males had a tendency to score better in memory tasks (Lewin, Wolgers, & Herlitz, 2001, p.1). In one study, females performed higher than males at recall and recognition of concrete pictures (Herlitz, Airaksinen, & Nordstrom, 1999, p.4). They were given three minutes to try and remember as many concrete pictures as they could, then afterwards they were given a free-recall test to write down as many words as they could remember.

Another study, done by Witryol & Kaess, used the KW test. This test consisted of 20 photographs on a page including both male and female faces and names. Subjects were able to study the photographs for five minutes. The results showed that females were better able to recognize and recall female faces and names, while males were better able to recognize and recall male faces and names (Witryol & Kaess, 1957, p.345). This shows that there is a marked difference between the memory of males and females. We hope to gain valuable insights into these differences through further research.

Proposed Methods

Participants will be undergraduate students at The University of Michigan-Dearborn. An equal ratio of males to females will be used for each of the two groups of 14 participants, with 28 participants used total. Their age is not of great importance, however for consistency and to rule out confounds they will be between 18 and 30 years old. We will utilize C-Tools and UM-D students to try to get as random a sample as possible.

A tray with fourteen objects will be used for each group. The control group will get a tray of gender neutral objects. The control group objects will be: water bottle, lighter, pencil, pen, cell phone, tape, book, toothpaste, candy, bag of chips, plastic bag, pill, piece of paper, and a rock. The experimental group will get a tray consisting of fourteen objects considered more generally used by either females or males, seven of each type. There will be an equal ratio of male to female objects. The female objects will be: tampon, pearl necklace, ring, lipstick, nail polish, high heels, and a sucker. The male objects will be: baseball, poker chip, hot wheel car, action figure, a nail, rubber ball, and a golf tee.

The two groups of participants will be scheduled on the same day about half an hour apart. The testing will be conducted in the same room for both groups. After everyone signs the consent forms we will proceed with the instructions and purpose of the experiment. It will not be revealed at this time what our hypothesis is, only that we will show them objects and later ask them to recall them. We will have the first group, the control group, go first. We will show the tray of gender neutral items to them for three minutes. Then cover the tray up with a box placed on top. After a minute interval, a paper and pencil test will be administered to the group where they will have to recall as many objects on the tray as possible. There will be no talking among participants. The paper will be blank, so participants will not know how many objects to try and remember. Participants will be given five minutes to complete the test.

The experimental group will go second. They will come to the room half an hour after the first group left so as to not have participants overhear what the study is about on their way over. Also to control for this the first group will not be debriefed on the true meaning of the study yet, only that it is a memory task. The second group will view a tray of gender specific items, seven male and seven female. They will have three minutes to look at the items. Then the items will be covered up with the same box. After a minute interval, the same paper and pencil test will be administered. This group will also be given five minutes to complete the test.

The general memory score of the paper and pencil tests will be the number of correctly identified items divided by fourteen (the number of total items). The gender specific memory score will be the percentage of items correctly identified matching that particular person’s gender compared to their score for the opposite gender items. There will be no penalizations given for guessing incorrectly.

This research will help to determine the differences between genders regarding memory. It is essential to better understand how human memory works. If we are able to draw significant conclusions regarding memory differences between males and females, the way we try to remember things can be altered based on gender so humans have improved memory capabilities.


Eals, M., & Silverman, I. (1994). The hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences: Proximate factors mediating the female advantage in recall of object arrays. Ethology and Sociobiology, 15, 95-105.

Grön, G., Wunderlich, A.P., Spitzer, M., Tomczak, R., & Riepe, M.W. (2000). Brain activation during human navigation: gender-different neutral networks as substrate of performance. Nature Neuroscience, 3, 404-408.

Herlitz, A., Airaksinen, E., & Nordstrom, E. (1999). Sex differences in episodic memory: The impact of verbal and visuospatial ability. Neuropsychology, 13, 590-597.

Levy, L. J., Astur, R. S., & Frick K. M. (2005). Men and women differ in object memory but not performance of a virtual radial maze. Behavioral Neuroscience, 119, 853–862.

Lewin C., Wolgers G., & Herlitz A. (2001). Sex differences favoring women in verbal but not in visuospatial episodic memory. Neuropsychology, 15, 165-173.

Witryol, S.L. & Kaess, W.A. (1957). Sex differences in social memory tasks. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 54, 343-346.

Psychology ; Experiments | Gender

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