Own-sex effects in emotional memory for faces

Neurosci Lett. 2007 Oct 9;426(1):1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2007.08.032. Epub 2007 Aug 22.


The amygdala is known to be critical for the enhancement of memory for emotional, especially negative, material. Importantly, some researchers have suggested a sex-specific hemispheric lateralization in this process. In the case of facial expressions, another important factor that could influence memory success is the sex of the face, which could interact with the emotion depicted as well as with the sex of the perceiver. Whether this is the case remains unknown, as all previous studies of sex difference in emotional memory have employed affective pictures. Here we directly explored this question using functional magnetic resonance imaging in a subsequent memory paradigm for facial expressions (fearful, happy and neutral). Consistent with our hypothesis, we found that the hemispheric laterality of the amygdala involvement in successful memory for emotional material was influenced not only by the sex of the subjects, as previously proposed, but also by the sex of the faces being remembered. Namely, the left amygdala was more active for successfully remembered female fearful faces in women, whereas in men the right amygdala was more involved in memory for male fearful faces. These results confirm the existence of sex differences in amygdala lateralization in emotional memory but also demonstrate a subtle relationship between the observer and the stimulus in this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Face*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Observer Variation
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sex Characteristics*