Amherst Magazine

Just the Facts, Ma’am

By Emily Gold Boutilier

Angelina Gomez’s summer research was part of a larger effort by Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Schulkind to study gender differences in memory.

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Schulkind’s theory is that men have provided more quotes, longer quotes and more accurate quotes.

A large body of research shows that women tell longer, richer and more detailed narratives than men. But are women’s narratives also more accurate?

To find out, Schulkind—with thesis students Emily Scheiderer ’06 and Kyle Schoppel ’08—conducted a study that asked male and female Amherst hockey players to describe what happened during their games.  They found that men more accurately remembered factual information—John passed to Jim, then Jim scored—while women were more likely to describe the mood of the team or a player at a particular moment in the game. “Women’s memories,” Schulkind says, “were not as good as men’s for the facts.” That research was recently published in the journal Memory & Cognition.

The movie-quote study will help determine whether that same conclusion applies to non-autobiographical memory. Schulkind decided to study movie lines after observing that, while his male friends often quoted movies back and forth (his own favorites to quote: The Godfather, Pulp Fiction and The Dark Knight), the practice seemed less central to his friendships with women. In addition, he noticed that his daughter devours fiction, while her twin brother reads to gather facts.

By the end of this academic year, Schulkind will have crunched the numbers on Gomez’s coding of movie lines. His theory is that men have provided more quotes, longer quotes and more accurate quotes.

Schulkind got some bad news, though, in his initial review of Gomez’s coding: He’s been (slightly) misquoting the famous “napalm in the morning” line from Apocalypse Now. Is his talent for quoting movies not up to snuff? “Now that you ask me that question,” he says, “I don’t want to know. This is one of those places where I think the unexamined life is the good life.”

Photo by Rob Mattson