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Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories.

Psychological studies have found better memory in women than men for emotional events, but the neural basis for this difference is unknown. We used event-related functional MRI to assess whether sex differences in memory for emotional stimuli is associated with activation of different neural systems in men and women. Brain activation in 12 men and 12 women was recorded while they rated their experience of emotional arousal in response to neutral and emotionally negative pictures. In a recognition memory test 3 weeks after scanning, highly emotional pictures were remembered best, and remembered better by women than by men. Men and women activated different neural circuits to encode stimuli effectively into memory even when the analysis was restricted to pictures rated equally arousing by both groups. Men activated significantly more structures than women in a network that included the right amygdala, whereas women activated significantly fewer structures in a network that included the left amygdala. Women had significantly more brain regions where activation correlated with both ongoing evaluation of emotional experience and with subsequent memory for the most emotionally arousing pictures. Greater overlap in brain regions sensitive to current emotion and contributing to subsequent memory may be a neural mechanism for emotions to enhance memory more powerfully in women than in men.

Pubmed ID: 12145327


  • Canli T
  • Desmond JE
  • Zhao Z
  • Gabrieli JD


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Publication Data

August 6, 2002

Associated Grants


Mesh Terms

  • Behavior
  • Brain
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Neurons
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Task Performance and Analysis