A woman’s memory of an experience is less likely to be accurate than a man’s if the experience was emotionally provocative or unpleasant, according to research conducted by the University of Montreal researchers at Louis-H Lofontain Hospital.
“Very few studies have looked at how ‘valence’ and ‘arousal’ affect memories independently of each other, that is to say, how attractive or repulsive we find an experience and how emotionally provocative it is,” said study author Dr. Marc Lavoie, in a statement. “Our test relied on photos, we found firstly that highly arousing 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. Arousal has enhancing effect on the memory of men however, as does ‘low valence’ or unpleasantness.”
The study is published online by the International Journal of Psychophysiology.
Subjects of the study were shown a varied amount of images on a computer screen that fell into four different categories: high-valence and low arousal, such as pictures of babies crying, low-valence and high-arousal, which consisted of war photos, high-valence and low-arousal, which showed pictures of kittens, and lastly erotic photos for the high-valence and high-arousal participants.
The subjects were then shown a second round of pictures that included the same images as the first round, in addition to some new ones. By pressing a button, participants indicated whether they had already seen the image or if it was new to them. Speed and accuracy of answering the questions allowed the researches to determine which factors had the most influence.
In addition subjects were connected to an EEG system, which measures the brain’s neuron activity.
“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,” said Lavoie.
“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,” he concluded.