I tried to think of a more eloquent name for this post – I promise, I did. But I failed. So, you’ll have to deal with the bluntness that came off the top of my mind.
My musings on this started during a gathering at my best friend’s house a few weeks ago. It was a birthday party for her daughter, and in addition to the little girl’s friends, my best friend had invited several family members including her parents. I’ve met her father many times before: Thanksgiving, previous birthday parties, Labor Day and July 4th cookouts, etc. However, he came up to me as though we’d never met and introduced himself for likely the seventh or eighth time since our initial meeting.
His wife interrupted him with the reminder that we’d met on multiple prior occasions. She then went on to pick up where we’d last off at our last meeting, asking follow up questions about my children – remembering their names and ages – and whether my husband’s absence was due to his work schedule (it was; she’d remembered he often worked nights and weekends).
As I sat there talking with her, while her husband stood next to her, furiously trying to place me in his daughter’s life, I couldn’t help but wonder: is memory one of those male traits that never quite developed?
It’s About Priorities
Although there are valid reasons why someone may not recognize or remember a person they’ve met before (prosopagnosia, aka “face blindness,” and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few), I was fairly certain my friend’s father didn’t suffer from one of them. Instead, my research led me to a single conclusion: he simply didn’t care to remember. Richard Harris, a Kansas State psychology professor, told ABC News in June that memory is intrinsically tied to motivation. In other words, if you want to remember someone’s name, birthday, anniversary, or anything else about them, you’ll take the steps necessary to make that happen. If, however, those bits of information aren’t on your priority list, you won’t bother remembering them – and won’t feel guilty forgetting.
So Women Are Better At Remembering Because They Care More?
In one word, yes. Women place a higher priority on remembering than men do. And if you look at lists of quintessential female traits compared to male traits, you’ll start to see why that is.
Traits Typically Associated With Women
Traits Typically Associated With Men
Many of those stereotypical female traits indicate someone who is likely a good listener, who cares about the person with whom she’s speaking, and a person who may blame herself if she fails to remember something the subject told her at an earlier meeting. In other words, women are more likely to internalize a conversation – whether with an old friend or a new acquaintance – and take a more personal stake in remembering the interaction.
Men, on the other hand, are less nurturing, less compassionate; for better or for worse, men are programmed with a “me first” agenda. It’s not to say they’re selfish; rather, biology has rewarded men for putting themselves ahead of others when it comes to procreation, while genetically it’s been to the female’s advantage to put the needs of others (re: her progeny) first.
The modern-day result? Male traits set guys up to fail when it comes to remembering what their brains may consider insignificant details; sure, they’re perfectly equipped to remember information that can help them get ahead (this is especially true in the professional arena), but all other data is simply white noise.
Why Remembering Matters
Whether you’re an oft-forgetful man or a I-can-remember-every-day-of-third-grade-like-it-was-yesterday type of woman, improving your memory can help your personal and professional lives. Remember your spouse’s birthday or your anniversary, and you’re likely to be rewarded with a more loving partner. Remember the names, ages, and hobbies of your supervisor’s children, and your boss is more likely to think you’re really listening when he or she talks, and think the better of you for it. It’s not just a bottom-up matter; remembering those crucial details of employees working under you is important, too. It shows you’re an empathetic manager who cares about your employees not just as worker bees, but as people with lives, friends, and family outside of the office.
Reader, do you agree with my decidedly non-scientific assessment? Are women typically better at remembering things than men?