Cortical dynamics of emotional autobiographical memory retrieval differ between women and men

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Abstract

Retrieval of autobiographical memories entails periods of search, access, and elaboration. Women's reports of their memories feature more detail and emotional content relative to men's. A key question is how these gender differences relate to unfolding changes in cortical activity during retrieval. We recorded EEG activity from 32 scalp electrodes as women and men were cued to retrieve positive, negative, and neutral autobiographical memories. Alpha (9–12 Hz) oscillations were prominent at all EEG channels. Alpha coherence between channels was calculated as a measure of ms-level cortical synchrony. Across participants and memory types, a frontal cluster showed pronounced decreases in coherence with other channels during the first second of autobiographical retrieval. In the following second, a left parietal-centered cluster showed increased coherence with other channels. This effect strengthened and spread in the third second of retrieval, perhaps reflecting trace elaboration and/or evaluation of the memory. Although women and men gave similar subjective ratings of their memories, the second-by-second pattern of alpha coherence during autobiographical retrieval differed by gender and memory type. Specifically, women sustained the increased pattern of left-parietal coherence throughout the trial, whereas for men, alpha coherence in this cluster returned to baseline by second two for neutral memories and by second three for emotional memories. Examination of the temporal dynamics of cortical oscillations provides novel insight into autobiographical memory retrieval processes and to gendered retrieval in particular, suggesting that women may persist with elaboration and/or evaluation to a greater extent than men.

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