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Study Group on the Grass

Sex differences across cognitive domains

Sex differences are observed in various domains. In three particular domains, sex differences appear to result from how men and women process information. Males appear to preferentially attend to and remember the gist (essential central information) of a scene or situation, but females appear to preferentially attend to and remember the details (non-essential peripheral information) of a scene or situation. This difference is well documented in emotional memory, where emotion enhances gist memory more for males than for females but enhances detail memory more for females than for males. Importantly, this does not mean that males and females do not attend to and remember both gist and detail aspects of a scene or situation, just that one type is better remembered than the other and that the pattern is reversed across the sexes. 

Interestingly, a similar gist vs. detail distinction is observed in spatial memory, where men tend to notice and remember the gist of where they or objects are in space whereas women tend to recall the details of the space around them. These differences likely contribute to the enhanced ability of males to more flexibly manipulate themselves or objects within the space they occupy and the enhanced ability of women to accurately remember the locations of objects within the space they occupy. 

Finally, a similar pattern of sex differences in observed in the perception of hierarchical stimuli, with men attending to global aspects of stimuli (such as a large letter E), whereas women attend more to the local aspects (such as the many smaller letter Ts making up the E). Please see our theoretical paper reviewing the parallel sex differences in these domains and how they relate to sex differences in associated brain systems. The paper also proposes how sex differences in evolutionary pressures and in the locus coeruleus and norepinephrine system may account for why parallel sex differences occur across these different task domains.

Sex differences across cognitive domains: Project
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