Women are better at finding and remembering words than men, study shows


When picking your Scrabble partner, or looking for help with the Sunday crossword, you’re better off having the girls on side.

That’s because a new study has found that women are better at finding and remembering words than men.

Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway have analysed the results of 168 studies on gender differences in ‘verbal fluency’ and ‘verbal-episodic memory’.

Verbal fluency is a measure of one’s vocabulary, while verbal-episodic memory is the ability to recall words one has come across in the past. 

‘Women are better. The female advantage is consistent across time and life span, but it is also relatively small,’ said Professor Marco Hirnstein.

Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway have analysed the results of 168 studies on gender differences in ‘verbal fluency’ and ‘verbal-episodic memory’ (stock image)

HOW MEN AND WOMEN’S BRAINS ARE WIRED DIFFERENTLY

A study by a team from the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of 900 men, women and children aged eight to 22.

From the scans they were able to create a complete road map of the connections in each of their brains, called their ‘connectome’.

All connectomes are based on a common set of wiring between the regions of the brain, such as connecting the region which deals with speech to that which processes hearing, giving a fixed frame of reference for researchers.

But the team found subtle differences in how brains were wired in men and women.

The maps show that men’s brains may be hardwired for better special awareness and motor skills, while connections in women’s brains are wired to give them an edge in memory and social cognition.

The findings could help to shed light on brain diseases and behavioural conditions which progress faster in one sex than the other.

Professor Hirnstein said: ‘Most intellectual skills show no or negligible differences in average performance between men and women. 

‘However, women excel in some tasks, while men excel in others on average.

‘So far, the focus has mostly been on abilities in which men excel. However, in recent years the focus has shifted more towards women.’

Prior to their research, the last analysis of literature that tested gender differences in verbal fluency and memory was conducted in 1988.

This identified a small female advantage, but Hirnstein and his colleagues wanted to update this result and discover the current magnitude of the difference.

They performed a ‘meta-analysis’ of the combined data of all PhD theses, master theses, and studies published in scientific journals they could find.

It encompassed data from more than 350,000 participants taken over the last 50 years.

The researchers also looked at how the studies’ results related to the gender of the first or last author, publication year and the ages of the participants. 

The results, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, found a small but consistent advantage for women in verbal fluency and verbal memory. 

However, when it came to verbal fluency, the female advantage only came about in ‘phonemic fluency’, ie naming words that begin with a specific letter.

Gender differences were category-dependent when naming things that are, for example, red or round, in what is known as semantic fluency.

Moreover, they found that the female advantage depends on the gender of the leading scientist.

Female scientists report a larger female advantage, while male scientists report a smaller female advantage. 

The results, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science , found a small but consistent advantage for women in verbal fluency and verbal memory (stock image)

The results, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science , found a small but consistent advantage for women in verbal fluency and verbal memory (stock image)

‘Both male and female first authors reported better performance for participants of their own gender,’ the author’s wrote. 

‘Future studies should investigate publication bias and first-author/last-author effects in cognitive abilities in which men/boys typically excel, for example mental rotation.

‘This has been largely ignored so far.’

The researchers believe their results could help improve diagnostic assessments which test these verbal abilities, like for dementia.

They say that knowing that women are generally better in those tasks is critical to prevent that women are under-diagnosed, due to their better average performance.

Additionally, it could prevent the over-diagnosis of men that have a lower average performance in the same tests.

The authors wrote: ‘We propose that the female advantage emerges from an intricate interaction of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.’

Women remember specifics like ‘who said what’ and ‘where missing objects are’ better than men 

Women have better recall when it comes to remembering specifics, according to research from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.

Females apparently have the edge when it comes to remembering features of a conversation or where missing objects might be because they fare better with episodic memory.

Episodic memory is the ability to recall autobiographical events such as what happened last week or whether the cat was fed this morning.

As one of the most sensitive memory systems it can be impacted by lack of sleep, depression or aging.

The research also indicates women are better at remembering faces and recalling sensory memories such as smells.

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