Friday, 18 May 2007

Women have a superior memory for faces

Women are better at remembering faces than men, probably because they're more interested in social aspects of the world than men are. That's according to Jenny Rehnman and Agneta Herlitz who presented 212 Swedish men and women with 60 faces to remember. After completing some unrelated psychology tests, the participants then viewed a new set of faces, half of which had been featured earlier. Their task was say which faces they'd already seen. (This procedure was then repeated again with another 60 faces to remember).

The female participants were significantly better than the men at recognising which faces they'd seen earlier and which were new. And they were particularly accurate when it came to female faces – an “own-sex” bias that's been documented before. The men didn't show a similar bias for male faces, in fact they too were better at recognising female faces.

The researchers explained the findings in terms of women's different approach to socialising: “Women's friendship is often described as 'face-to-face' with more of an affective focus on the other, in contrast to men's 'side-by-side' friendships, which is more oriented around external activities and tasks.”

Consistent with earlier research in this area, both the male and female participants were better at remembering faces that shared their own ethnicity (in this case, those that were Swedish rather than Bangladeshi). Also, whereas they recognised the faces of Swedish children and adults with equal accuracy, when it came to Bangladeshi faces, they found children's faces more difficult to remember.
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Rehnman, J. & Herlitz, A. (2007). Women remember more faces than men do. Acta Psychologica, 124, 344-355.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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