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Sex and Facial Recognition

Sex and Facial Recognition

Sex and Facial Recognition

Acta Psychologica 124 (2007) 344–355

Women remember more faces than men do

Jenny Rehnman a,b,*, Agneta Herlitz a

a Aging Research Center, Karolinska Institutet, Gävlegatan, 16 8tr, 113 30 Stockholm, Sweden b Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Received 20 December 2005; received in revised form 10 April 2006; accepted 13 April 2006 Available online 9 June 2006


Women have been found to outperform men on face recognition tasks, specifically in the recog- nition of female faces. Men do not seem to exhibit a corresponding own-sex bias. To examine the generality and possible reasons for these patterns, 107 men and 112 women viewed faces of both chil- dren and adults of either Swedish or Bangladeshi origin, for later recognition. As expected, women were especially good at remembering female faces, but also outperformed men on male faces. Men did not show an own-sex bias. Thus, regardless of age and ethnicity of the faces, women performed at a higher level than men on both female and male faces, possibly reflecting enhanced interest in faces, and in particular, female faces. � 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. Sex and Facial Recognition

PsycINFO classification: 2343

Keywords: Episodic memory; Face recognition; Gender schema; Own-sex bias; Sex differences

1. Introduction

Recent research has demonstrated reliable sex differences favoring women in episodic memory (i.e., the autobiographical records of unique events in the individual’s experience encoded in a particular temporal-spatial context; Tulving, 1983, 1993), throughout the

0001-6918/$ – see front matter � 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2006.04.004

* Corresponding author. Address: Aging Research Center, Karolinska Institutet, Gävlegatan, 16 8tr, 113 30 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel.: +46 8 690 5302; fax: +46 8 690 5954.

E-mail address: (J. Rehnman).



J. Rehnman, A. Herlitz / Acta Psychologica 124 (2007) 344–355 345

lifespan (de Frias, Nilsson, & Herlitz, 2005; Kramer, Delis, Kaplan, O’Donnell, & Prifit- era, 1997; Lindholm & Christianson, 1998). Typically, women excel over men when the material is verbal (i.e., words, objects, concrete pictures), whereas the opposite is true when the material to be remembered involves a substantial visuospatial component (e.g., Astur, Ortiz, & Sutherland, 1998; Lewin, Wolgers, & Herlitz, 2001; Ruff, Light, & Quayhagen, 1988). Women are also reported to show a modest advantage over men for non-verbal material, such as abstract pictures (Goldstein et al., 1998; Stumpf, 1998). How- ever, although women outperform men in the recognition of previously presented objects and pictures (e.g., Bradbard & Endsley, 1983; McGivern et al., 1997), men have been found to excel on object recognition in which the material to be remembered consisted of so called male-oriented objects (McGivern et al., 1997; McKelvie, Standing, St. Jean, & Law, 1993). Thus, factors such as interest and prior knowledge may influence the pres- ence and magnitude of sex differences in episodic memory.