Monday, 19 May 2008

Women's memories are more speech-filled than men's

To gasps of surprise from some quarters, a spate of recent studies have shown that women don't talk any more than men do. But now Richard Ely and Elizabeth Ryan have looked at people's autobiographical memories and found that while women may not talk more than men, their recollections do tend to be more speech-filled.

Sixty female students and 48 male students were asked to write about their earliest memory, an early childhood memory, a learning experience, a recent low point, a recent high point and a self-defining memory.

Their answers showed what an important part speech plays in our memories, with an instance of speech recalled once in every 100 words on average, reflecting about 8 per cent of the participants' text.

The amount of speech recalled in participants' memories varied with gender and personality. People who scored highly on measures of openness, agreeableness and/or expressivity all tended to include more examples of speech in their memories. And women were found to recall more speech than men even after controlling for gender differences in personality and other factors.

The researchers surmised that women may recall more speech than men because of differences in the way boys and girls are spoken to by their parents. "Parents are more elaborative and more emotional when conversing with daughters than with sons," they said.

Another finding to emerge from the study was the tight association between emotion and speech-related memories. The more negative a participant said a memory was, the more likely this memory was to contain speech.

This was consistent with the number of speech-related memories that had obviously had a momentous effect on participants' lives. Take this example, in which a participant recounted the time he accidentally injured a team-mate in baseball, and went to see if he was okay: "The coach just turns to me and says 'Get out of here you little bastard, you have done enough.' I didn't play baseball for five years after that."

Ely, R., Ryan, E. (2008). Remembering talk: Individual and gender differences in reported speech. Memory, 16(4), 395-409. DOI: 10.1080/09658210801949869

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

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