Women find emotional images more emotionally stimulating than men and were more likely to remember them, but there are no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal to neutral images, a new study has revealed.
A large-scale study by a research team at the University of Basel focused on determining the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, memory performance and brain activity.
With the help of 3,398 test subjects from four sub-trials, the researchers were able to demonstrate that females rated emotional image content - especially negative content - as more emotionally stimulating than their male counterparts did. In the case of neutral images, however, there were no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal. In a subsequent memory test, female participants could freely recall significantly more images than the male participants. Surprisingly though, women had a particular advantage over men when recalling positive images. "This would suggest that gender-dependent differences in emotional processing and memory are due to different mechanisms," says study leader Dr Annette Milnik.
Using fMRI data from 696 test subjects, the researchers were also able to show that stronger appraisal of negative emotional image content by the female participants is linked to increased brain activity in motoric regions. The result would support the common belief that women were more emotionally expressive than men, explained Dr Klara Spalek, lead author of the study.
The findings also help to provide a better understanding of gender-specific differences in information processing. This knowledge is important, because many neuropsychiatric illnesses also exhibit gender-related differences. The study is part of a research project led by professors Dominique de Quervain and Andreas Papassotiropoulos at the University of Basel, which aims to increase the understanding of neuronal and molecular mechanisms of human memory and thereby facilitate the development of new treatments.
The results will be published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.