- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Husbands never remember marital spats. Wives never forget.
A new study of that ancient matrimonial given suggests a reason: Women's brains are wired both to feel and to recall emotions more keenly than the brains of men.
A team of psychologists tested groups of women and men for their ability to recall or recognize highly evocative photographs three weeks after first seeing them and found that the women's recollections were more accurate by 10 percent to 15 percentage points.
The study, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, to make images of the subjects' brains as they were exposed to the pictures. It found that the women's neural responses to emotional scenes were much more active than the men's.
Turhan Canli, an assistant professor of psychology at State University of New York Stony Brook, says the study shows that a woman's brain is better organized to perceive and remember emotions.
"The wiring of emotional experience and the coding of that experience into memory is much more tightly integrated in women than in men," says Mr. Canli, the lead author of the study. "A larger percentage of the emotional stimuli used in the experiment were remembered by women than by men."
Other authors of the study are John E. Desmond, Zuo Zhao and John D.E. Gabrieli, all of Stanford University.
The findings are consistent with earlier research that found differences in the workings of the minds of women and men, says Diane F. Halpern, director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family, and Children and a professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California.
Miss Halpern says the study "makes a strong link between cognitive behavior and a brain structure that gets activated" when exposed to emotional stimuli.
"It advances our understanding of the link between cognition and the underlying brain structures," she says. "But it doesn't mean that those are immutable, that they can't change with experience."
Miss Halpern says the study also supports earlier findings that women, in general, have a better autobiographical memory for anything, not just emotional events.
She says the study supports the folkloric idea that a wife has a truer memory for marital spats than does her husband. "One reason for that is that it has more meaning for women, and they process it a little more. But you can't say that we've found the brain basis for this, because our brains are constantly changing."
In the study, Mr. Canli and his colleagues individually tested the emotional memories of 12 women and 12 men using a set of pictures. Some of the pictures were ordinary, and others were designed to evoke strong emotions. Each of the subjects viewed the pictures and graded them on a three-point scale ranging from "not emotionally intense" to "extremely emotionally intense."
As the subjects looked at the pictures, images were taken of their brains using magnetic resonance imaging. This measures neural blood flow and can identify portions of the brain that are active.
Mr. Canli says women and men had distinctively different emotional responses to the same photos. For instance, the men would see a gun and call it neutral, but for women it would be "highly, highly negative" and evoke strong emotions.

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