If you want to remember the ridiculousness of your childhood, don’t ask your brother, ask your sister — sincepsychology research suggests that women remember things faster, more accurately, and in greater detail than men.
The gender difference may be a result of the way we teach our daughters and sons to tell stories.
As Melissa Dahl reports for New York Magazine, we “learn” how to make memories between ages 2 and 6 by way of storytelling.
“Whether you knew it or not, during these years, you learned how to form memories,” she writes, “and researchers believe this happens mostly through conversations with others, primarily our parents.”
Research shows that when mums ask their kids for details about what happened in their days, they’re being trained in remembering. In a New Zealand study, kids whose mothers asked them to elaborate more when they were young had better recall as adults.
Azriel Grysman, who studies gender and memory at Hamilton College, says that gender norms orient girls more toward elaboration than boys, which may lead to better memories.
“The message that girls are getting is that talking about your feelings is part of describing an event,” Grysman tells New York. “And for boys, emotions are something to be concerned with when they are part of a larger issue, but otherwise not.”
Why would this prompt better remembering? Because a memory isn’t some particle floating around in your brain waiting to be touched on. Instead, Grysman says that a memory is “a pattern of mental activity, and the more entry points we have to what that pattern might be, the more chances we have to retrieve it.”
Psychologists call those entry points “retrieval cues” — little details like what you were wearing, where the sun was, what you had just eaten, and what you were feeling at the time. It’s one reason reading physical books helps you remember more than reading an ebook — holding the book in your hand acts as a cue for remembering it later.
Since girls are more likely to be trained to elaborate and include their feelings in their memory-making, they’re more likely to remember better.
“It’s quite possible, over time, that those tendencies will help women establish more connections in their brains of different pieces of an event,” Grysman says, “which will lead to better memory long-term.”
For the same reason, elaboration is one of our best study hacks.
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