Robyn Fivush

Gender Differences & Autobiographical Memory

Our research on family storytelling discovered that mothers are more elaborative than fathers when reminiscing with their children. This is in line with other research showing that women’s autobiographical memories are more vivid, more detailed, and more emotionally expressive than men’s. Why might this be? We examined this question in two ways: 

First, we demonstrated that, within families, mothers are indeed more detailed and elaborative when reminiscing about family events than are fathers, but mothers are not more talkative during family conversations about other topics. This suggests that reminiscing is a special context in which mothers play the role of family historian.   

Second, we investigated gender differences more broadly: Are these differences in autobiographical narratives attributable to biological sex or self-ascribed gender identity? In a series of studies, we found that biological sex is a better predictor of gender differences in autobiographical narratives than is gender identity. We are still exploring why this might be the case.