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Personality, Gender Influence How We Remember

Update Date: Apr 11, 2012 11:06 AM EDT
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What we do with our emotional memories and how they affect us has a lot to do with our gender, personality and the methods we use to regulate our feelings, according to a new study.

The analysis revealed that both men and women who were high in extroversion -gregarious, assertive, stimulus-seeking- tended to remember more positive than negative life events. 

"We're looking at traits that are associated with the way that people process the emotional world and the way that they respond to it," said University of Illinois psychology professor Florin Dolcos, who conducted the study with postdoctoral researcher Sanda Dolcos and University of Alberta postdoctoral researcher Ekaterina Denkova.

The researchers used questionnaires and verbal cues to assess personality and to elicit more than 100 autobiographical memories in each of 71 participants. Men who were high in neuroticism tended to recall a greater proportion of negative memories than men who were low in neuroticism, while women who were high in neuroticism tended to return to the same negative memories again and again, a process called rumination.

Florin Dolcos said, "Depressed people recollect those negative memories and as a result they feel sad," he said. "And as a result of feeling sad, the tendency is to have more negative memories recollected. It's a kind of a vicious circle."

"We wanted to look not only at how personality traits might influence what and how people remember, but also to examine how that impacts their subsequent emotional state," he added. 

"I think that the most important thing here is that we really need to look concomitantly at sex- and personality-related differences and to acknowledge that these factors have a different impact on the way we record our memories, on what we are doing with our memories, and later, how what we are doing with our memories is impacting our emotional well-being," said Sanda Dolcos.

"The findings are instructive for both men and women," she said. "Being more outgoing, interrupting rumination and using reappraisal seems to work best for men and women as a strategy for dealing with negative memories and cherishing the positive ones," she added. 

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