Sex/Gender Differences in Verbal Fluency and Verbal-Episodic Memory: A Meta-Analysis
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionPerspectives on Psychological Science, 2022. 10.1177/17456916221082116
Women are thought to fare better in verbal abilities, especially in verbal-fluency and verbal-memory tasks. However, the last meta-analysis on sex/gender differences in verbal fluency dates from 1988. Although verbal memory has only recently been investigated meta-analytically, a comprehensive meta-analysis is lacking that focuses on verbal memory as it is typically assessed, for example, in neuropsychological settings. On the basis of 496 effect sizes and 355,173 participants, in the current meta-analysis, we found that women/girls outperformed men/boys in phonemic fluency (ds = 0.12–0.13) but not in semantic fluency (ds = 0.01–0.02), for which the sex/gender difference appeared to be category-dependent. Women/girls also outperformed men/boys in recall (d = 0.28) and recognition (ds = 0.12–0.17). Although effect sizes are small, the female advantage was relatively stable over the past 50 years and across lifetime. Published articles reported stronger female advantages than unpublished studies, and first authors reported better performance for members of their own sex/gender. We conclude that a small female advantage in phonemic fluency, recall, and recognition exists and is partly subject to publication bias. Considerable variance suggests further contributing factors, such as participants’ language and country/region.