Battle of the Sexes: Memory and Computation

An & Quynh Trieu

CU-Boulder, Fall 2007

When it comes to gender, the question is always which sex is more superior. The questions that we want to answer are: 1) Which gender is better at memorization; and 2) Which is better at computation? On an evolutionary level, our ancestral mothersÕ keen memory for food locations is seen in womenÕs superior ability to locate objects (Myers 463).  On the other hand, men utilized thinking skills to hunt. So we hypothesize that evolution differentially selects for the traits of memory and cognition based on gender. Therefore, we predict that females will surpass males in memorization whereas males will excel in computation.

To test our hypotheses, we gathered information from five females and five males to minimize uncontrolled variables. To reduce IQ as a factor, participants had similar backgrounds in mathematics, ACT scores from 24-26, and ages 18-20. Our first test, which examined a personÕs memory, consisted of a poster board with ten squares containing five fruit pictures and five fruit names. Participants were allowed twenty seconds to memorize the locations of the ten items. We then asked them to identify on a blank poster board the location of five objects. Time was stopped after they correctly identified the locations. Then, we asked them five simple arithmetic problems, such as addition and multiplication, to test their thinking skills. Time was stopped when all questions were answered correctly. All participants were asked the exact same questions.

After performing the experiment, the average time to complete the memory test was 33.4 seconds for females and 51.0 seconds for males. Our p-value for the memory test was 0.045. The completion times were significantly different between the two sexes, with females having significantly faster times in locating the objects than males. Conversely, females took an average of 119.2 seconds to complete the mathematics test while the mean time for males was 78.4 seconds. Our p-value for the math test came out to be 0.092, showing no significant difference between the average times for the two genders.

Our data is partially consistent with our hypotheses. Females were significantly better than males in the memorization test while neither gender was statistically quicker in the computation test. Although we minimized as many uncontrolled variables as possible, potential problems with our experiment could include the math testÕs difficulty in comparison to the memory test and the disregard for the time it took to ask the questions.

Although only one statistical test supported our hypotheses, we decided not to modify it.  Instead, we would test more people and modify our experiment by making our math testÕs difficulty level similar to our memory test and taking into account the time it takes to ask a question. This increase of data will improve data accuracy and hopefully support our hypotheses statistically. If the modifications still donÕt support our hypotheses statistically, we would modify our hypotheses to say that evolution selected the memorization trait to be passed down to women, but with present lifestyles, women are equally skilled as men at computation.