Agneta Herlitz

Speech title:
The impact and stability of sex differences in cognition


Agneta Herlitz is a professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. She has previously spent time as a researcher at Stockholm University (1996-2002), Umeå University (1985-1991), and Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin (2004-2005). Agneta Herlitz’ research has resulted in over 80 articles.

Agneta Herlitz’ research centers on individual differences in cognitive functions, with a specific focus on sex differences. An overarching aim is to describe and explain these differences and to understand the potential impact they may have on every-day life. She was the first to report and systematically investigate the pattern and magnitude of sex differences in episodic memory. This work has resulted in a comprehensive meta-analysis in which an overall female advantage is reported, that is modified by the material to be remembered, with the largest female advantage in verbal episodic memory tasks. In order to explain these differences, Agneta Herlitz has explored the impact of postnatal endogenous variation in sex hormones, concluding that they play little or no role in modifying these sex differences. Her research on the impact environmental factors, such as living conditions and gender equality, may have on these differences, has demonstrated that improved living conditions and less gender-restricted educational opportunities are associated with a larger female advantage in some cognitive functions (e.g., episodic memory) and a smaller male advantage in others (e.g., numeracy), indicating that while the magnitude of the cognitive sex differences may change, there is little to suggest that these differences cease to exist.