Face-Off: Women proven to be better at remembering faces

Remember the last time a woman teased her husband that her memory is better than his, she just might be right.

Compared with men, women seem to have a knack for fixating on the eyes, nose and mouth of someone they’ve just met even without knowing it, a new study suggests. That tendency might make women better at remembering faces, researchers say.

These findings are by researchers from McMaster University in Canada, they may answer long standing questions about why some people can remember faces easily while others quickly forget someone they have just met.

A team of researchers measured the eye movements of men and women while they looked at photos of randomly selected faces on a computer. Participants were asked to remember and later recall the names they were shown.

Jennifer Heisz, the assistant professor in the department of kinesiology who led the study, says the results confirmed her hypothesis: that women would fare better at the task.
“We discovered that women look more at new faces than men do, which allows them to create a richer and more superior memory,” says Heisz.

Far more focus on facial features

Eye-tracking technology used during the tests could explain the sex difference. The women in the study focused on the facial features far more than men in the images presented to them, the researchers found. “The way we move our eyes across a new individual’s face affects our ability to recognize that individual later,” study researcher Jennifer Heisz explained in a statement. “We discovered that women look more at new faces than men do, which allows them to create a richer and more superior memory.”

Another study researcher, David Shore, a psychology professor at McMaster, said that the skill is subconscious for women since individuals don’t usually notice where their eyes fixate. But the findings could shed light on how to better remember people you meet, he added. “The results open the possibility that changing our eye movement pattern may lead to better memory,” Shore said in a statement. “Increased scanning may prove to be a simple strategy to improve face memory in the general population, especially for individuals with memory impairment like older adults.”

In another Vision Research study published last year, scientists looked at how participants studied images of different objects, like leaves, owls, butterflies, wading birds, mushrooms, cars, planes and motorcycles. The researchers found that men were better at identifying pictures of vehicles they’d studied, whereas woman were better at recognizing birds and other objects of the natural world. The study’s authors speculated this disparity might not have its roots in biology, but might arise from men and women being socialized in different ways.

The next time you come across a woman, remember to keep a pleasant face, ‘coz she isn’t going to forget!