DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2009.01081

Acta Psychologica Sinica (心理学报) 2009/41:11 PP.1081-1090

Sex Differences in Cognitive Functions

Here, we present an overview of sex differences in cognitive functions with a special focus on sex differences in episodic memory. Results show that women perform at a substantially higher level than men on verbal production, episodic memory, and face recognition tasks. Men perform at a higher level on visuospatial tasks, including visuospatial episodic memory tasks. The popular hypothesis that steroid hormones affect the magnitude of sex differences in cognitive functions is critically discussed, and the conclusion is that neither endogenous testosterone nor estradiol affect cognitive sex differences substantially.

Key words:cognitive functions,episodic memory,sex differences,steroid hormones

ReleaseDate:2014-07-21 14:53:07

Funds:Correspondence should be addressed to Agneta Herlitz, Aging Research Center, KI-SU, 113 31 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +46-8-690 6885; Fax: +46-8-690 6889

Almeida, O. P., Lautenschlager, N.T., Vasikaran, S., Leedman, P., Gelavis, A., & Flicker, L. (2006). 20-week randomized controlled trial of estradiol replacement therapy for women aged 70 years and older: Effect on mood, cognition and quality of life. Neurobiology of Aging, 27, 141-149.

Astur, R. S., Ortiz, M. L., & Sutherland, R. J. (1998). A characterization of performance by men and women in a virtual Morris water task: A large and reliable sex difference. Behavioural Brain Research, 93, 185-190.

Berenbaum, S. A. (2001). Cognitive function in congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, 1, 173-192.

Bixo, M., Bäckström, T., Winblad, B., & Andersson, A. (1995). Estradiol and testosterone in specific regions of the human female brain in different endocrine states. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 55, 297-303.

Brownell, W., & Smith, D. R. (1973). Communication patterns, sex and length of verbalization in speech of four-year-old children. Speech Monographs, 40, 310-316.

Christiansen, K., & Knussmann, R. (1987). Sex hormones and cognitive functioning in men. Neuropsychobiology, 18, 27-36.

Choudhury, E. S., Moberg, P., & Doty, R. L. (2003). Influences of age and sex on a microencapsulated odor memory test. Chemical Senses, 28, 799-805.

Connellan, J., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Batki, A., & Ahluwalia, J. (2000). Sex differences in human neonatal social perception. Infant Behavior & Development, 23, 113-118.

Crook, T. H., Youngjohn, J. R., & Larrabee, G. J. (1993). The influence of age, gender, and cues on computer-simulated topographic memory. Developmental neuropsychology, 9, 41-53.

Cross, J. F., Cross, J., & Daly, J. (1971). Sex, race, age, and beauty as factors in recognition of faces. Perception & Psychophysics, 10, 393-396.

Davison, K. K., & Susman, E. J. (2001). Are hormone levels and cognitive ability related during early adolescence? International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25, 416-428.

de Frias, C., Nilsson, L.-G., & Herlitz, A. (2006). Sex differences in cognition are stable over a 10-year period in adulthood and old age. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 13, 574-587.

Dunkin, J., Rasgon, N., Wagner-Steh, K., David, S., Altshuler, L., & Rapkin, A. (2005). Reproductive events modify the effects of estrogen replacement therapy on cognition in healthy postmenopausal women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30, 284-296.

Epting, L. K., & Overman, W. H. (1998). Sex-sensitive tasks in men and women: A search of performance fluctuations across the menstrual cycle. Behavioral Neuroscience, 112, 1304-1317.

Espeland, M. A., Rapp, S. R., Shumaker, S. A., Brunner, R., Manson, J. E., Sherwin, B. B., et al. (2004). Conjugated equine estrogens and global cognitive function in postmenopausal women: Women's Health Initiative memory study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 291, 2959-2968.

Feinman, S., & Entwisle, D. R. (1976). Children's ability to recognize other children's faces. Child Development, 47, 506-510.

Folstein, M. F., Folstein, S. E., & McHugh, P. R. (1975). "Mini-mental state". A practical method for grading the cognitive state of patients for the clinician. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 12, 189-198.

Fonda, S. J., Bertrand, R., O'Donnell, A., Longcope, C., & McKinlay, J. B. (2005). Age, hormones, and cognitive functioning among middle-aged and elderly men: Cross-sectional evidence from the Massachusetts male aging study. Journals of Gerontology: Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 60A, 385-390.

Fuh, J., Wang, S., Lee, S., Lu, S., & Juang, K. (2006). A longitudinal study of cognition change during early menopausal transition in a rural community. Maturitas, 53, 447-453.

Fuh, J., Wang, S., Lu, S., Juang, K., & Lee, S. (2003). Alterations in cognitive function during the menopausal transition. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 51 431-432.

Going, M., & Read, J. D. (1974). Effects of uniqueness, sex of subject, and sex of photograph on facial recognition. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 39, 109-110.

Goldstein, J. M., Seidman, L. J., Horton, N. J., Makris, N., Kennedy, D. N., Caviness, V. S., et al. (2001). Normal sexual dimorpism of the adult human brain assessed by in vivo magnetic resonance imaging. Cerebral Cortex, 11, 490-497.

Gordon, H. W., & Lee, P. A. (1986). A relationship between gonadotropins and visuospatial function. Neuropsychologia, 24, 563-576.

Gordon, H. W., & Lee, P. A. (1993). No difference in cognitive performance between phases of the menstrual cycle. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 18, 521-531.

Gouchie, C., & Kimura, D. (1991). The relationship between testosterone levels and cognitive ability patterns. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 16, 323-334.

Goy, R. W., & McEwen, B. S. (1980). Sexual differentiation of the brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hampson, E. (1990). Variations in sex-related cognitive abilities across the menstrual cycle. Brain & Cognition, 14, 26-43.

Hampson, E., & Kimura, D. (1988). Reciprocal effects of hormonal fluctuations on human motor and perceptual-spatial skills. Behavioral Neuroscience, 102, 456-459.

Hampson, E., Rovet, J. F., & Altmann, D. (1998). Spatial reasoning in children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency. Developmental Neuropsychology, 14, 299-320.

Hassler, M., Gupta, D., & Wollmann, H. (1992). Testosterone, estradiol, ACTH and musical, spatial and verbal performance. International Journal of Neuroscience, 65, 45-60.

Hausmann, M., Slabbekoorn, D., Van Goozen, S. H. M., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., & Güntürkün, O. (2000). Sex hormones affect spatial abilities during the menstrual cycle. Behavioral Neuroscience, 114, 1245-1250.

Helleday, J., Bartfai, A., Ritzén, E. M., & Forsman, M. (1994). General intelligence and cognitive profile in women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). Psychoneuroendocrinology, 19, 343-356.

Herlitz, A., Airaksinen, E., & Nordström, E. (1999). Sex differences in episodic memory: The impact of verbal and visuospatial ability. Neuropsychology, 13, 590-597.

Herlitz, A., & Kabir, Z. N. (2006). Sex differences in cognition among illiterate Bangladeshis: A comparison with literate Bangladeshis and Swedes. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 47, 441-447.

Herlitz, A., Nilsson, L.-G., & Bäckman, L. (1997). Gender differences in episodic memory. Memory & Cognition, 25, 801-811.

Herlitz, A., & Rehnman, J. (2008). Sex differences in episodic memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 52-56.

Herlitz, A., Thilers, P. & Habib, R. (2007). Endogenous estrogen is not associated with cognitive performance before, during, and following menopause. Menopause, 14, 425-431.

Herlitz, A., & Yonker, J. E. (2002). Sex differences in episodic memory: The influence of intelligence. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychology, 24, 107-114.

Hill, R. D., Grut, M., Wahlin, Å., Herlitz, A., Winblad, B., & Bäckman, L. (1995). Predicting memory performance in optimally healthy very old adults. Journal of Mental Health and Aging, 1, 57-67.

Hines, M. (2006). Prenatal testosterone and gender-related behavior. European Journal of Endocrinology, 155, S115-S121.

Hines, M., Fane, B. A., Pasterski, V. L., Mathews, G. A., Conway, G. S., & Brook, C. (2003). Spatial abilities following prenatal androgen abnormality: Targeting and mental rotations performance in individuals with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 28, 1010-1026.

Hogervorst, E., De Jager, C., Budge, M., & Smith, A. D. (2004). Serum levels of estradiol and testosterone and performance in different cognitive domains in healthy elderly men and women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29, 405-421.

Hooven, C. K., Chabris, C. F., Ellison, P. T., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2004). The relationship of male testosterone to components of mental rotation. Neuropsychologia, 42, 782-790.

Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (1988). Gender differences in verbal ability: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 53-69.

Janowsky, J. S. (2006). Thinking with your gonads: Testosterone and cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 77-82.

Krithivas, K., Yurgalevitch, S. M., Mohr, B. A., Wilcox, C. J., Batter, S. J., Brown, M., et al. (1999). Evidence that the CAG repeat in the androgen receptor gene is associated with the age-related decline in serum androgen levels in men. Journal of Endocrinology, 162, 137-142.

Levine, S. C., Huttenlocher, J., Taylor, A. & Langrock, A. (1999). Early sex differences in spatial skill. Developmental Psychology, 35, 940-949.

Lewin, C., & Herlitz, A. (2002). Sex differences in face recognition: Women's faces make the difference. Brain & Cognition, 50, 121-128.

Lewin, C., Wolgers, G., & Herlitz, A. (2001). Sex differences favoring women in verbal but not in visuospatial episodic memory. Neuropsychology, 15, 165-173.

Linn, M. C., & Petersen, A. C. (1985). Emergence and characterization of sex differences in spatial ability: A meta-analysis. Child Development, 56, 1479-1498.

Lutchmaya, S., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2002). Human sex differences in social and non-social looking preferences, at 12 months of age. Infant Behavior & Development, 25, 319-325.

Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1974). The psychology of sex differences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Maki, P. M., Rich, J. B., & Rosenbaum, R. S. (2002). Implicit memory varies across the menstrual cycle: Estrogen effects in young women. Neuropsychologia, 40, 518-529.

Maller, J. J., Anstey, K. J., Réglade-Meslin, C., Christensen, H., Wen, W., & Sachdev, P. (2007). Hippocampus and amygdala volumes in a random community-based sample of 60-64 year olds and their relationship to cognition. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 156, 185-197.

McBain, R., Norton, D., & Chen, Y. (2009). Females excel at basic face perception. Acta Psychologica, 130, 168-173.

McEwen, B. S. (2002). Estrogen actions throughout the brain. Recent Progression in Hormone Research, 57, 357-384.

McGuire, L. S., Ryan, K. O., & Omenn, G. S. (1975). Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. II. Cognitive and behavioral studies. Behavior Genetics, 5, 175-188.

McKelvie, S. J. (1981). Sex differences in memory for faces. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 107, 109-125.

McKelvie, S. J., Standing, L., St Jean, D., & Law, J. (1993). Gender differences in recognition memory for faces and cars: Evidence for the interest hypothesis. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 31, 447-448.

Meyer, P. M., Powell, L. H., Wilson, R. S., Everson-Rose, S. A., Kravitz, H. M., Luborsky, J. L., et al. (2003). A population-based longitudinal study of cognitive functioning in the menopausal transition. Neurology, 61, 801-806.

Moffat, S. D., & Hampson, E. (1996). A curvilinear relationship between testosterone and spatial cognition in humans: Possible influence of hand preference. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 21, 323-337.

Moffat, S. D., Zonderman, A. B., Metter, E. J., Blackman, M. R., Harman, S. M., & Resnick, S. M. (2002). Longitudinal assessment of serum free testosterone concentration predicts memory performance and cognitive status in elderly men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 87, 5001-5007.

Moore, D. S., & Johnson, S. P. (2008). Mental rotation in human infants: A sex difference. Psychological Science, 19, 1063-1066.

Nordenström, A., Servin, A., Bohlin, G., Larsson, A., & Wedell, A. (2002). Sex-typed toy play behavior correlates with the degree of prenatal androgen exposure assessed by CYP21 genotype in girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 87, 5119-5124.

Nyberg, L., Habib, R., & Herlitz, A. (2000). Brain activation during episodic memory retrieval: Sex differences. Acta Psychologica, 105, 181-194.

Öberg, C., Larsson, M., & Bäckman, L. (2002). Differential sex effects in olfactory functioning: The role of verbal processing. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 8, 691-698.

O’Brien, L. T., & Crandall, C. S. (2003). Stereotype threat and arousal: Effects on women’s math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 782-789.

Phillips, K., & Silverman, I. (1997). Differences in the relationship of menstrual cycle phase to spatial performance on two- and three-dimensional tasks. Hormones and Behavior, 32, 167-175.

Polo-Kantola, P., Portin, R., Polo, O., Helenius, H., Irjala, K., & Erkkola, R. (1998). The effect of short-term estrogen replacement therapy on cognition: A randomised, double-blind, cross-over trial in postmenopausal women. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 91, 459-466.

Postma, A., Winkel, J., Tuiten, A., & van Honk, J. (1999). Sex differences and menstrual cycle effects in human spatial memory. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 24, 175-192.

Quinn, P. C., & Liben, L. S. (2008). A sex difference in mental rotation in young infants. Psychological Science, 19, 1067-1070.

Ramsey-Rennels, J. L., & Langlois, J. H. (2006). Infants’ differential processing of female and male faces. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 59-62.

Ramsey, J. L., Langlois, J. H., & Marti, N. C. (2005). Infant categorization of faces: Ladies first. Developmental Review, 25, 212-246.

Rapp, S. R., Espeland, M. A., Shumaker, S. A., Henderson, V. W., Brunner, R. L., Manson, J. E., et al. (2003). Effect of estrogen plus progestin on global cognitive function in postmenopausal women. The Women’s Health Initiative Study: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 289, 2663-2672.

Rehnman, J., & Herlitz, A. (2006). Higher face recognition ability in girls: Magnified by own-sex and own-ethnicity bias. Memory, 14, 289-296.

Rehnman, J., & Herlitz, A. (2007). Women remember more faces than men do. Acta Psychologica, 124, 344-355.

Reinitz, M. T., Morrissey, J., & Demb, J. (1994). Role of attention in face encoding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 161-168.

Resnick, S. M., Maki, P. M., Rapp, S. R., Espeland, M. A., Brunner, R., Coker, L. H., et al. (2006). Effects of combination estrogen plus progestin hormone treatment on cognition and affect. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 91, 1802-1810.

Saucier, D. M., & Kimura, D. (1998). Intrapersonal but not extrapersonal targeting skills is enhanced during the midluteal phase of the mestrual cycle. Developmental Neuropsychology, 14, 385-398.

Servin, A., Nordenström, A., Larsson, A., & Bohlin, G. (2003). Prenatal androgens and gender-typed behavior: A study of girls with mild and severe forms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Journal of Developmental Psychology, 39, 440-450.

Silverman, I., Kastuk, D., Choi, J., & Phillips, K. (1999). Testosterone levels and spatial ability in men. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 24, 813-822.

Skuse, D. H. (2005). X-linked genes and mental functioning. Human Molecular Genetics, 14, R27-R32.

Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613-629.

Thilers, P., Macdonald, S., & Herlitz, A. (2006). The association between endogenous free testosterone and cognitive performance: A population-based study in 35 to 90 year-old men and women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 31, 565-756.

Tulving, E. (2001). Episodic memory and common sense: How far apart? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 356, 1505-1515.

Voyer, D., Postma, A., Brake, B., & Imperato-McGinley, J. (2007). Gender differences in object location memory: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 23-38.

Voyer, E., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250-270.

Wolf, O. T., & Kirschbaum, C. (2002). Endogenous estradiol and testosterone levels are associated with cognitive performance in older women and men. Hormones and Behavior, 41, 259-266.

Wright, D. B., & Sladden, B. (2003). An own gender bias and the importance of hair in face recognition. Acta Psychologica, 114, 101-114.

Yaffe, K., Vittinghoff, E., Ensrud, K. E., Johnson, K. C., Diem, S., Hanes, V., et al. (2006). Effects of ultra-low-dose transdermal estradiol on cognition and health-related quality of life. Archives of Neurology, 63, 945-950.

Yonker, J. E., Adolfsson, R., Eriksson, E., Hellstrand, M., Nilsson, L.-G., & Herlitz, A. (2006). Verified hormone therapy improves episodic memory performance in healthy postmenopausal women. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 13, 291-307.