Who Remembers What?

Men may bemoan women’s uncanny ability to remember every word and nuance of an argument weeks later, but there’s a scientific basis for the gender gap.

“Men and women are different in every system of the body, and nowhere is this more true than in the brain,” says Marianne J. Legato, MD, founder of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. Because of a higher rate of blood flow to certain parts of the brain (including those that control language) as well as higher concentrations of estrogen, women’s memories have been shown to be superior to men’s in a couple of key areas:

The spoken word. “This includes stories read aloud from books, as well as verbal arguments,” says Dr. Legato, author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget. These things become more firmly fixed in women’s memories, are better “packaged” and can be recalled more easily later, again thanks to enhanced blood flow to the brain.

Unpleasant, frightening or stressful experiences. Estrogen activates a larger field of neurons in women’s brains during an upsetting experience, explains Dr. Legato, so they experience the stress in greater and more precise detail. “Simply remembering an unpleasant incident can bring back the same terrible sadness and agitation to women that they experienced at the time,” adds Dr. Legato. On the plus side: Women may be better eyewitnesses at crime and accident scenes.

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