He forgot your birthday? No surprise.

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] A lapse in memory is often branded as a "senior moment," but is it really?

A lapse in memory is often branded as a “senior moment,” but is it really? Do you think youth  is really the best scoring season for our remembering mind? And if your male partner forgets your birthday, can he find a friend in science to save him from a silent and slow “death” that you may think you are justfied to deliver?

Not necessarily,  maybe, and yes.  But not for the reasons you probably thought.

Those are the answers based on the findings of a study published last October 2013 in BMC Psychology entitled “Gender differences in subjective memory impairment in a general population: the HUNT study, Norway.” This involved over 50,000 individuals, aged 30-80+ who were asked 9 questions, 7 of which were all related to were memory-related while the other 2 were health-related. I have to admit that I found myself asking myself these questions too as I was reading the study.  

Do you have problems with your memory? Has your memory changed since you were younger? Do you have problems remembering what happened a few minutes ago? Do you have problems remembering the names of other people?” Do you have problems remembering dates? Do you have problems remembering to carry out planned activities? Do you have problems remembering what happened a few days ago/ what happened some years ago? Do you have problems keeping track of a conversation?

How is your health at the moment? Thinking about your life at the moment, would you say that you by and large are satisfied with life, or are you mostly dissatisfied?

The study was not about the power of people’s memories across timelines but how people perceived the robustness of their own memory. Then the researcers tried to see what relationships these perceptions had with their own health, his or her own satisfaction with his or her own life and the level of education of the participants.

The results of the study were quite intriguing.

First, the revelation that almost half of all the participants reported some form of memory problem in general and that this was not confined to older participants. In fact, there were many in the youngest age groups that reported having memory problems. In the group age 30-39, there was a big difference in the percentage between men and women who OFTEN cannot remember other people’s names with the men still  the champion. There were also slightly more men than women who thought that they had severe memory problems.

Second the most commonly reported difficulty was in remembering names, dates and in both, men still outnumbered women in the “I do not remember” department.

Third, about 2/3 of all the participants think that their memory abilities have undergone some change since they were younger. But for those who think that there have been a serious change, men still outranked the women.

So unless you are a male reader which might have made you easily forget what just transpired in the preceeding paragraphs, you will no longer be surprised to be issued a summary statement from the study that “in general, men reported memory complaints more often than women,” outnumbering women in 8 out of the 9 questions.

The results became even more interesting when it showed that those who thought they had less memory problems were the ones who perceived themselves to be healthy, generally satisfied with their lives and also had higher levels of education.

There were attempts in the study to find an explanation to why men are more forgetful than women. The most curious for me was that maybe  the lives of the modern Norwegian men are more cognitively demanding. Of course, this was followed immediately by “[however], in Norway 70-80% of the female workforce is employed, the highest employment rate for women in the world, and there is no evidence that Norwegian women have less cognitively demanding lives than Norwegian men…”

I have yet to mount my own study but based on my keen lifelong observations and some periodic scrutiny of human males in history, academic and personal, some of whom I love mightily, “having a cognitively demanding life” is not exactly the phrase I would choose to try to generally characterize the human male. I would also summon a neighboring science – biology – to throw the weight of some biologically demanding functions (that drain a good share of their cognitive powers) that could result in a conveniently shadowy memory of a name or important calendar date.

Oh but then, what can we do, science is still stumped as to why he forgot your birthday. The study concluded that “despite several hypotheses, the reason behind men reporting more memory problems than women remains unexplained.” And you think women were the mysterious ones. – Rappler.com

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.”  Her column appears every Friday and you can reach her at sciencesolitaire@gmail.com.