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Festival of science Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Memory machine probes gender differences
memory machine
Scientists hope to settle a few arguments
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Psychologists have launched one of the world's largest memory experiments in an attempt to find out whether men have a better short-term memory than women.

Current evidence suggests that men outperform women when it comes to a specific type of memory, short-term spatial memory, used in tasks like map reading.

Dr Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, is using the memory machine, an interactive computer game, to test the theory at the British Association's Festival of Science in London.

The experiment could also shed light on whether, in certain situations, children's memory skills excel those of adults.

"These are quite interesting hypotheses," said Dr Wiseman. "They're going to tell us about the way in which the brain processes and stores information and so it's very exciting to be part of the experiment here."

Red and blue

Three thousand volunteers are being sought to explore their short-term memory skills.

Using a virtual keypad, participants are taken through a series of short tests, including for IQ. They are asked to memorise a specific pattern of squares as they turn from red to blue on the screen.

The participants are then expected to recall the sequence by tapping out the pattern on the squares with their fingers. The faster a user goes, the faster the machine throws up a new task.

The memory machine is on display at London's Science Museum, the site of a similar public experiment pioneered by psychologist Francis Galton following the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Scientists will announce the results of the modern-day version when the Science Festival ends.

See also:

12 Oct 99 | Sheffield 99
22 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
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