The Influence of Gender on Long-Term Incidental Memory

By Anna K. Jarschke and Christina M. Frederick
2014, Vol. 6 No. 05 | pg. 2/3 |


This study was designed to test the influence of gender stereotypes on incidental memory. Female and male participants viewed a single word list comprised of female-stereotypical and male-stereotypical words. After viewing word lists with no instruction to remember the words, an intermediate math distractor task was employed after which participants were asked to recall as many words from the initial list as possible. The variable of interest was gender and the relevant measure for analysis was the number of recalled words.

Study 1

Participants. Study 1 included a sample of 81 participants (39 females, 42 males) from a population of undergraduate students. Participants were identified via convenience sampling and restricted to those between the ages of 18 to 25 years to control for memory ability (Fernandes & Grady, 2008).

Procedure. Upon arrival and only after indicating their willingness to participate in the study, participants completed an information card including basic demographics. Participants were fully informed about the tasks they would be asked to perform, however, the true purpose of the study was not revealed until a final debriefing period.

Participants were tested in groups, in a single room, and facing a projection screen. As the study began, each participant was assigned a participant number and was provided a pen and white piece of paper with only this participant number at the top. This paper was used by participants to record information related to the distractor task and perform the final memory task.

Participants first completed a mathematic distractor task. This non-verbal task was used to minimize any potential verbal and word related interactions (Blank, 2005). Participants were asked to repetitively subtract the number 7 from 280 (i.e., 280 minus 7 is 273, 273 minus 7 is 276, and so on), out loud, at their own pace for 60 s. The initial two numbers, 7 and 280, were projected for clarity and to minimize the cognitive load required to complete the task. Participants were instructed to not use the pen and paper they had been provided and were prompted to cease the repetitive subtraction task at 60 s. At this time, participants wrote the number they reached during repetitive subtraction on the provided paper. This number was of no relevance other than in its contribution to obscuring the true aim of the study.

After recording the product of repetitive subtraction, participants watched a slideshow of female- and male-stereotypical words. Each word was displayed for 3 s and participants were asked to visualize the word. The serial position effect, particularly primacy and recency effects, could arise as participants studied the word list. Maylor (2002) explains primacy as the likelihood for people to better remember items from the beginning of a memory task, whereas recency is the likelihood for people to better recall items at the end of a memory task. Primacy arises from the disproportionate opportunities for rehearsal, and thus, movement of items into long-term memory (Maylor, 2002). Recency occurs because the end of a list is most recent and items remain in short-term memory (Maylor, 2002). To alleviate the impact of primacy effects, each group was exposed to one of two word lists. These two word lists contained the same words, but in a different, random, order. To minimize the recency effect, another mathematic distractor task was performed immediately after viewing the word list.

After viewing the word list slideshow, participants completed another mathematic distractor task. Participants were asked to repetitively add the number 4, starting with 27 (i.e., 27 plus 4 is 31, 31 plus 4 is 35, and so on), out loud, for 60 s. These two numbers (27 and 4) were also projected. After 60 s, participants wrote the result of their repetitive addition on the provided paper underneath the result of their repetitive subtraction task.

After this second distractor task, participants were asked to recall the words from the slideshow. Instructions were given to write down as many words, in no particular order, with as much accuracy as possible, on the opposite side of the paper from their notated numbers. Participants were given 4 min to free recall as many words as possible.

Finally, to distract participants from the true aim of the study, they were asked to internally (i.e., using no paper or pen) sum the two digits recorded on their paper from the mathematic tasks. Once this addition was complete, participants wrote this final number on the paper, immediately following their recalled word list. Participants were debriefed, asked to not share the procedure of the study with anyone to prevent potential participants from knowing the aim of the study before the debriefing period, and thanked for their time.

Materials. The 40-item word list consisted of both female- and male-stereotypical words. The word list was compiled for the purpose of the current study (see Appendix A for complete list). Pilot data on the gender-stereotypical value of 80 words were collected from 20 participants. From the original list, the 20 words ranked as most female-stereotypical and the 20 male-stereotypical were used in the study. Words within each gender stereotype were balanced for word length. The 40 words selected were ordered randomly, with the exception that word order alternated between female- and male-stereotypical words. Two word list orders (note: no change in words in the list) were constructed to reduce the impact of primacy, recency, and order effects. These two list orders were presented in random order over the course of the study.

Study 2

Participants. Study 2 included 84 participants (40 females, 44 males) sourced from the same population as Study 1. Participants were selected using the same process as in Study 1 with the addition of the restriction that no participant from Study 1 could be a part of Study 2.

Materials. A new 40-item word list was compiled based on Crawford, Leynes, Mayhorn, and Bink’s (2004) collection of gendered and neutral words. The words used in Study 2 were selected from Crawford et al.’s (2004) word list with focus on balancing stereotype value and word length between genders. The 20 words within each gender stereotype were balanced by gender stereotype strength and word length (see Appendix B). The 40 words selected were ordered randomly with list order alternating between female- and male-stereotypical words. Two word list orders (note: no change in words used in the list) were constructed to reduce the impact of order effects. These two list orders were presented in random order over the course of the study.

Procedure. The experimental procedure used in Study 2 was identical to that used in Study 1 with the exception of replacing the original word list with the new word list sourced from Crawford et al. (2004). Study 2 was conducted to examine the relative impact of words sourced from a peer-reviewed, gendered, word list rather than an independently constructed word list.

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