Flashbulb Memory - Demographic Differences in Flashbulb Memories - Gender


Although not much research has been done on gender and flashbulb memories, one study notes the existence of gender effects on the presence of various factors which contribute to flashbulb memories. Researchers had Israeli University students complete questionnaires regarding their memories for various terrorist attacks. Men rated the distinctiveness of their flashbulb-producing event significantly higher than females did. Additionally, men had memories with significantly more detail than women. Women however, reported significantly higher rates of emotional reactivity. Unfortunately, it is unclear how generalizable these findings are as they are the results from only one study.

Other studies conducted in this area of research yielded findings indicating that women are able to produce more vivid details of events than men. One such study had participants fill out questionnaires pertaining to the Senate hearings that confirmed Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice (Morse, 1993). The questionnaire contained four sections. The first asked about vivid images associated with the weekend the hearing took place, and the participants were asked to rate the two most vivid images using 7-point bipolar scales. The scale rated for "personal importance, unexpectedness of the recalled event, consequentiality of the event, vividness of the memory, and emotional intensity of the recalled event." The second section contained questions on autobiographical events not recently thought of and also used the 7-point scale format. The third section inquired on the number of hours watching or listening to media coverage of the hearing, and the fourth asked about details of the memories that were reported. 94 respondents were surveyed, and of those there were 62 females, 31 males, and one person who did not indicate gender. The study found that half of the individuals reported vivid memory images associated with the hearings. 64% of women reported images as opposed to 33% men. 77% of women reported having had stimulated recall of an autobiographical event, while only 27% of men indicated having experienced such recall. Beyond the two rated memories given in the first section, women were more likely than men to report additional imagery (24% of women and 6% of men). There was no difference in the average amount of time spent consuming media on the hearing.

A large body of research was conducted into events taking place during the terrorist attacks on 9/11, although it was not specifically geared toward finding gender differences.In one study researchers had participants answer questions to establish "consistent flashbulb memory," which consists of details about where the participants were at the time of the attacks, what they were doing, etc. In 2002 it was found that 48% of respondents fulfilled these requirements, and of those people 49% were women and 47% were men. They found that in 2003 45% of respondents surveyed met the criteria for having "consistent flashbulb memory." Of those 45%, women made up 46% of the group while men made up 44% (Conway, 2009). Women seemed more likely to have a more consistent memory for the event than men in this study. It should be noted that temporal distance from the incident decreases the memory consistency.

Biological reasons for gender variances in flashbulb memory may be explained by amygdala asymmetry. The amygdala is a part of the limbic system, and is linked with memory and emotion. Memory is enhanced by emotion, and studies have shown that people are more likely to remember a negative event than a neutral or positive one. Investigations into the amygdala revealed "people who showed strong amygdala activation in response to a set of positive or negative stimuli (relative to other study participants) also showed superior memory for those stimuli (relative to other study participants)" (Kensinger, 2007). This may explain why flashbulb memory typically involves traumatic events. When viewing emotional content, research has shown that men enhance their memory by activating their right amygdala while women activate the left side (Kensinger, 2007). The functional asymmetry of amygdala activation between genders is exemplified in experimentation with lesions and brain-damaged patients. One study found using a case-matched lesion approach that a "man with right-sided amygdala damage developed major defects in social conduct, emotional processing and personality, and decision making, whereas the man with left-sided amygdala damage did not" (Daniel, 2009). The reverse effect was found between two women. An experiment was conducted that had 12 men and 12 women view an assortment of images (emotional and nonemotional). Three weeks after the experiment a follow-up study was conducted testing the memory of those individuals, and it was "revealed that highly emotional pictures were remembered best, and remembered better by women than by men" (van Stegeren, 2009). One study performed an MRI scan on 40 patients after showing them aversive and non-aversive photographs proceeded by a warning stimulus. This experiment found that "previously reported sex differences of memory associations with left amygdala for women and with right amygdala for men were confined to the ventral amygdala during picture viewing and delayed memory" (Makiewicz, 2006). Although it is still unclear how lateralization affects memory, there may be a more effective relationship between activation of the left amygdala and memory than activation of right and memory. Generally speaking, studies testing differences between genders on episodic memory tasks revealed that "women consistently outperform men on tasks that require remembering items that are verbal in nature or can be verbally labeled" (Herlitz, 2008). In addition, it seems that "women also excel on tasks requiring little or no verbal processing, such as recognition of unfamiliar odors or faces" (Herlitz, 2008). Men only seem to excel in memory tasks that require visuospatial processing. Gender differences are also very apparent in literature pertaining to autobiographical memory research. "Compared to men, women´s recall is more accurate and, when not specifically prompted, their narratives are longer than men´s" (Aizpura, 2010). To sum up these gender differences, most literature on memory indicates that:

"Women use a greater quantity and variety of emotion words than men when describing their past experiences (Adams, Kuebli, Boyle, & Fivush, 1995; Bauer et al., 2003; Fivush et al., 2003; Hess et al., 2000). Women include not only a greater number of references to their own emotional states but also a greater number of references to the emotional states of others. In addition, when asked to recall emotional life experiences, women recall more memories of both positive and negative personal experiences than men" (Bloise, 2007).

Overall women seem to have better memory performance than men in both emotional and non-emotional events.

There are many problems with assaying gender differences found in the research into this topic. Most apparent is that it is heavily reliant on self-reporting of events. Inaccuracy of findings could result from bias questions or misremembering on the part of the participants. There is no way to completely verify the accuracy of accounts given by the subjects in a study. Additionally there are many indications that eye-witness memory can often be fallible. Emotion does not seem to improve memory performance in situation that involves weapons. One study found that eye-witnesses remembered details about perpetrators less clearly when a weapon was involved in the event (Pickel, 2009). Accuracy in these situations is compromised by a phenomenon known as the weapon focus effect. Further complicating matters is the time frame in which people are surveyed in relation to the event. Many studies fall victim to surveying people well after the events have transpired. Thus, there is a validity issue with much of the research into flashbulb memory in general, as well as any apparent gender differences found therein.

Read more about this topic:  Flashbulb Memory, Demographic Differences in Flashbulb Memories

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