Memory & Cognition

, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 801–811 | Cite as

Gender differences in episodic memory

  • Agneta HerlitzEmail author
  • Lars-Göran Nilsson
  • Lars Bäckman


The relationship between gender and memory has been largely neglected by research, despite occasional studies reporting gender differences in episodic memory performance. The present study examined potential gender differences in episodic memory, semantic memory, primary memory, and priming. Five hundred thirty women and 470 men, randomly sampled from the city of Umeå, Sweden, 35–80 years of age, participated in the study. There were no differences between men and women with regard to age or education, or on a measure of global intellectual functioning. As has been demonstrated previously, men outperformed women on a visuospatial task and women outperformed men on tests of verbal fluency. In addition, the results demonstrated that women consistently performed at a higher level than did men on the episodic memory tasks, although there were no differences between men and women on the tasks assessing semantic memory, primary memory, or priming. The women’s higher level of performance on the episodic memory tasks could not be fully explained by their higher verbal ability.


Gender Difference Face Recognition Free Recall Episodic Memory Mental Rotation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Bäckman, L., &Nilsson, L.-G. (1996). Semantic memory functioning across the adult life span.European Psychologist,1, 27–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baddeley, A. D., Lewis, V., Eldridge, M., &Thomson, N. (1984). Attention and retrieval from long-term memory.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,113, 518–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bolla-Wilson, K., &Bleecker, M. L. (1986). Influence of verbal intelligence, sex, age, and education on the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test.Developmental Neuropsychology,2, 203–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cohen, R. L. (1981). On the generality of some memory laws.Scandinavian Journal of Psychology,22, 267–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Craik, F. I. M., &Jennings, J. M. (1992). Human memory. In F. I. M. Craik & T. A. Salthouse (Eds.),The handbook of aging and cognition (pp. 51–110). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  6. Dureman, I. (1960).SRB:1. Stockholm: Psykologiförlaget.Google Scholar
  7. 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 & Sociobiology,15, 95–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Erngrund, K., Mäntylä, T., &Nilsson, L.-G. (1996). Adult age differences in source recall: A population-based study.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,51B, P335-P345.Google Scholar
  9. Folstein, M. F., Folstein, S. E., &McHugh, P. R. (1975). “Mini-Mental State”: A practical method for grading the cognitive state of the patient for the clinician.Journal of Psychiatric Research,12, 189–198.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Galea, L. A. M., &Kimura, D. (1993). Sex differences in routelearning.Personality & Individual Differences,14, 53–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Geffen, G., Moar, K. J., O’Hanlon, A. P., Clark, C. R., &Geffen, L. B. (1990). Performance measures of 16- to 86-year-old males and females on the Auditory Verbal Learning Test.Clinical Neuropsychologist,4, 45–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gur, R. C., Mozley, P. D., Resnick, S. M., Gottlieb, G. E., Kohn, M., Zimmerman, R., Herman, G., Atlas, S., Grossman, R., Berretta, D., Erwin, R., &Gur, R. E. (1991). Gender differences in age effect on brain atrophy measured by magnetic resonance imaging.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,88, 2845–2849.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Halpern, D. F. (1992).Sex differences in cognitive abilities (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Hart, R. P., &O’Shanick, G. J. (1993). Forgetting rates for verbal, pictorial, and figural stimuli.Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology,15, 245–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hill, R. D., Grut, M., Wahlin, Å., Herlitz, A., Winblad, B., &Bäckman, L. (1995). Predicting memory performance in optimally healthy very old adults.Journal of Mental Health & Aging,1, 55–65.Google Scholar
  16. Hulter-Åsberg, K. (1984). The common language of Katz’s index of ADL in six studies of aged and disabled patients.Scandinavian Journal of Cardiac Science,2, 171–178.Google Scholar
  17. Hultsch, D. F., Masson, M. E. J., &Small, B. J. (1991). Adult age differences in direct and indirect tests of memory.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,46, 22–30.Google Scholar
  18. Hyde, J. S., &Linn, M. C. (1988). Gender differences in verbal ability: A meta-analysis.Psychological Bulletin,104, 53–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kausler, D. H., &Hakami, M. K. (1983). Memory for activities: Adult age differences and intentionality.Developmental Psychology,19, 889–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Larrabee, G. J., &Crook, T. H. (1993). Do men show more rapid age-associated decline in simulated everyday verbal memory than do women?Psychology & Aging,8, 68–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lehrner, J. P. (1993). Gender differences in long-term odor recognition memory: Verbal versus sensory influences and the consistency of label use.Chemical Senses,18, 17–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Linn, M. C., &Petersen, A. C. (1986). A meta-analysis of gender differences in spatial ability: Implications for mathematics and science achievement. In J. S. Hyde & M. C. Linn (Eds.),The psychology of gender: Advances through meta-analysis (pp. 67–101). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Maccoby, E. E., &Jacklin, C. N. (1974).The psychology of sex differences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. McKelvie, S. J., Standing, L., St. Jean, D., &Law, J. (1993). Gender differences in recognition memory for faces and cars: Evidence for the interest hypothesis.Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society,31, 447–448.Google Scholar
  25. Nilsson, L.-G., Bäckman, L., Erngrund, K., Nyberg, L., Adolfsson, R., Bucht, G., Karlsson, S., Widing, M., &Winblad, B. (1997). The Betula prospective cohort study: Memory, health, and aging.Aging, Neuropsychology, & Cognition,4, 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nyberg, L., Bäckman, L., Erngrund, K., Olofsson, U., &Nilsson, L.-G. (1996). Age differences in episodic memory, semantic memory, and priming: Relationships to demographic, intellectual, and biological factors.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,51B, P234-P240.Google Scholar
  27. Olofsson, M., &Bäckman, L. (1996). Influences of intentionality at encoding and retrieval on memory in adulthood and old age.Aging/ Clinical & Experimental Research,8, 42–46.Google Scholar
  28. Perris, C. (1984a). Life events and depression: Part 1. Effect of sex, age, and civil status.Journal of Affective Disorders,7, 11–24.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Perris, C. (1984b). Life events and depression: Part 2. Results in diagnostic subgroups, and in relation to the recurrence of depression.Journal of Affective Disorders,7, 25–36.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Perris, C. (1984c). Life events and depression: Part 3. Relation to severity of the depression syndrome.Journal of Affective Disorders,7, 37–44.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Rabbitt, P., Donlan, C., Watson, P., McInnes, L., &Bent, N. (1995). Unique and interactive effects of depression, age, socioeconomic advantage, and gender on cognitive performance of normal healthy older people.Psychology & Aging,10, 307–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rosenthal, R. (1991).Meta-analytic procedures for social research (rev. ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Ruff, R. M., Light, R. H., &Quayhagen, M. (1988). Selective reminding tests: A normative study of verbal learning in adults.Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology,11, 539–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schacter, D. L., Harbluk, J. L., &MacLachlan, D. R. (1984). Retrieval without recollection: An experimental analysis of source amnesia.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,23, 593–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schacter, D. L., &Tulving, E. (1994). What are the memory systems of 1994? In D. L. Schacter & E. Tulving (Eds.),Memory systems 1994 (pp. 1–38). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  36. Schaie, K. W., &Willis, S. L. (1993). Age difference patterns of psychometric intelligence in adulthood: Generalizability within and across ability domains.Psychology & Aging,8, 44–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shepherd, J. (1981). Social factors in face recognition. In G. Davis, H. Ellis, & J. Shepherd (Eds.),Perceiving and remembering faces (pp. 55–79). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  38. Silverman, I., &Eals, M. (1992). Sex differences in spatial abilities: Evolutionary theory and data. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.),The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 487–503). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Statistiska Centralbyrån (1985). Betolkningens utbildningsnivå [Level of education for the population]. Örebro, Sweden: Author.Google Scholar
  40. Temple, C. M., &Cornish, K. M. (1993). Recognition memory for words and faces in schoolchildren: A female advantage for words.British Journal of Developmental Psychology,11, 421–426.Google Scholar
  41. Tulving, E. (1983).Elements of episodic memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Tulving, E. (1993). Human memory. In P. Andersen, O. Hvalby, O. Paulsen, & B. Hökfelt (Eds.),Memory concepts: Basic and clinical aspects (pp. 27–46). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  43. Tulving, E., &Colotla, V. (1970). Free recall of trilingual lists.Cognitive Psychology,1, 86–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wahlin, Å., Bäckman, L., Mäntylä, T., Herlitz, A., Viitanen, M., &Winblad, B. (1993). Prior knowledge and face recognition in a community-based sample of healthy, very old adults.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,48, 54–61.Google Scholar
  45. Wechsler, D. (1981).Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised: Manual. New York: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  46. West, R. L., Crook, T. H., &Barron, K. L. (1992). Everyday memory performance across the life span: Effects of age and noncognitive individual differences.Psychology & Aging,7, 72–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zelinski, E. M., Gilewski, M. J., &Schaie, K. W. (1993). Individual differences in cross-sectional and 3-year longitudinal memory performance across the adult life span.Psychology & Aging,8, 176–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Agneta Herlitz
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Lars-Göran Nilsson
    • 3
  • Lars Bäckman
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Karolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Stockholm Gerontology Research CenterStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of StockholmStockholmSweden
  4. 4.Göteborg UniversityGöteborgSweden

Personalised recommendations