Saturday, February 12, 2005

Gender Differences in Learning and Emotional Memory

Gender differences in learning are pretty interesting- but it's important to remember that most studies represent averaged results of groups - rather than any definite information about a person. Because learning disabilities appear to be more common in boys,though, and the gender gap in achievement only increases with age, there is hope that greater consideration to boys' preferences in learning style will eventually narrow the gap. At the K-12 level, women comprise an overwhelming majority of the teaching force.

Here's the key figure from the study of how men and women navigated their way out of a virtual maze. In this study, it's interesting to note that completely different brain regions were used by men and women to navigate their way. The sites in men correlated with geometric orientation (approximate) whereas the sites in women were associated with recall of landmarks (exact). Since then (link below) other investigators have found that both men and women are capable of using either navigation methods.

In follow up Jodi's question re: Simon Baron-Cohen "extreme male" hypothesis of autism (link below), we believe that this theory is just a working model for his group. Baron-Cohen has pursuing a line of investigation regarding prenatal exposure to testosterone. For all practical purposes, the "male hypothesis" doesn't help with any decision-making regarding autism. It is speculative.

Other studies have commented about gender-related differences emotional behaviors, but when it comes to autism, families should realize that the causes are multifactorial. Impaired emotional responsiveness may occur due to defective empathy, impaired visual processing (misreading faces), impaired auditory processing (mishearing auditory information, tone of voice), impaired language processing or various combinations of the above.

Here's a key figure from the emotional memory paper. On the left is the brain (amygdala) activation from women remembering an emotionally powerful photograph. On the right is the brain activation seen in men. Although men and women appeared to have similar levels of emotional responsiveness initially viewing photographs, later the women's group had stronger emotional recall for the pictures, and it correlated with this increased activation in the amygdala.

Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories
Are There Gender-specific Neural Substrates of Route Learning from Different Perspectives?
Gender differences in navigation
Men Do Hear -- But Differently Than Women
Men, Empathy, and Autism
Boys fall behind girls in grades


  1. Since we posted this, we can already think of a counter example. When we were watching "Miracle", the true story of the 1980 US Hockey team, it was clear that Brock's emotional memory for the game was much better than Fernette's. He remembered where he was, details of plays, names, faces, etc. Fernette remembered the U.S. won.

    Gender differences in learning and emotional memory depend a great deal on the 'subject' under study.

  2. Anonymous10:36 AM

    what about fear response? Could that region of the brain work differently based on how men and women process fear?

  3. For years, practically everyone has known that men and women age differently. It has been common knowledge for several decades that men typically don't fare as well as women when it comes to getting older.