Moody Memories

Personality and gender influence how we manage our memories and our mood

(RxWiki News) We all have happy memories, but we all have memories of sadder times as well. Some people are more likely to focus on the positive memories, but others focus on the negative. Until recently, nobody explored why.

Personality, gender, and emotional regulation are a large factor, a new study suggests. Both men and women who are extroverted and outgoing tended to remember more positive life events.

However, there were significant differences in the effects of negative memories for men and women.

"Try to focus on the positive - your psychiatrist can help."

The study was conducted by University of Illinois psychology professor Florin Dolcos, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher Sanda Dolcos, and University of Alberta postdoctoral researcher Ekaterina Denkova.

“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 Florin Dolcos. “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."

The researchers used questionnaires and verbal cues to assess the personalities of 71 participants (33 male, 38 female). The participants recounted over 100 memories each.

Extroverted men and women recalled more positive than negative life events. The men who had higher levels of neuroticism tended to have more negative memories than men with low neuroticism. Women with higher neuroticism, on the other hand, were likely to return to the same few negative memories over and over - a trait called rumination.

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

Though none of the study participants were diagnosed with depression or other emotional disorders, all were more likely to show a lower mood after recalling negative memories.

The largest gender difference involved the emotional strategies of men and women. Men who made an effort to think differently about their memories, a process called reappraisal, were more likely to remember more positive ones. Men who instead attempted to suppress bad memories saw no effect on the recollection of positive or negative memories.

Women who suppressed bad memories, however, were much more likely to recall negative memories and suffer from a lower mood.

"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," says Sanda Dolcos.

The study was published in the journal Emotion on Jan. 16th, 2012.

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Review Date: 
April 13, 2012