Why Men Seem Forgetful — And Women Never Forget

Dr. Helen Fisher on the science behind the forgetfulness gender gap.

Young adult Latinx couple smiling at a cafe, man gesturing toward the woman who is holding a coffee cup GaudiLab / shutterstock 

So many times I have begun reminiscing with a boyfriend about a holiday we shared, a movie we saw, or a trip we took — only to discover how little he remembered of the event.  

While I could recall what I wore, what we discussed, where we went, even what we ate, it was all a blur to him.  And these were highly intelligent and kind men; in no way duds.  

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I enjoy this trait: remembering. But I must admit, there are things I would prefer to forget.   

While I remain plagued by things I did or said years ago, many men seem to live in the here and now. And it’s not hard to blame a region of the brain: the hippocampus. A primary part of the memory system packed with receptors for estrogen — the largely female hormone.   

So, it is not unheard of for women to remember more than men. After all, we can hold a grudge. And we’re not alone.   

I know of a female chimpanzee that held a grudge for over 20 years. While strolling with her infant one jungle morning, a deranged neighbor seized her child to slaughter it, as she had done to others. The seasoned mother rescued her wailing offspring, and was hostile to the thief all her life.   


Like female chimpanzees, ancestral women had to remember even far smaller transgressions for years, as they struggled to rear their helpless young. 

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But why do men forget? Testosterone may play a role.  

Transgender individuals report that after three months of testosterone injections during gender-affirming procedures, they begin to live more and more in the here-and-now; they remember less of the past. High testosterone men also appear to focus more on the here-and-now.  

And like women’s acute memory for offenses of any kind, men’s lack of memory for transgressions is adaptive. 


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For millions of years men had to put aside their differences to hunt together. Surely they remembered serious betrayals (as modern men do too); but it was expedient to overlook, indeed even forget, minor squabbles in order to do their job.

These ancestral differences can also play out in business. After a vicious office battle, all the men will go out together for a beer, while all the women head home alone, often remaining hostile or wary for days or weeks.  

So the next time he can’t remember the details of your wonderful vacation together, just remind him. He’ll be relieved you didn’t haze him for forgetting; and you can regale him with the juicy tidbits of these precious times.


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Helen Fisher Ph.D., is a biological anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and Chief Scientific Advisor to the dating site Match. She is the author of the book The Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, among other titles.