A study suggests that women do most of the reminding to get stuff done (and no, it’s not nagging)

On the list today…
On the list today…
Image: Reuters/Eric Gaillard
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Research has shown that, in heterosexual couples, women tend to do more of the housework. Now a new study suggests that couples create memory systems to help them get stuff done—and women also do more of the reminding.

They found that men are less likely than women to offer “mnemonic assistance,”  or help with remembering tasks, to their partners than are women. When men do offer reminders, they’re more likely to be associated with activities the men are also involved in.

“The less selfless the reminder, the more likely that it was issued by a man,” said Elizabeth Haines, professor of psychology at William Paterson University and co-author of the study, in a press release. “The results certainly suggest that men benefit more from the collective nature of couples’ mental work than their female partners do.”

The study—from academics at William Paterson University and Columbia Business School and published in the journal, Sex Roles—has some serious limitations in terms of its sample size and methodology. The researchers conducted four experiments, each with around 300 participants recruited via the online labor marketplace Mechanical Turk.

The study’s authors say this “mental housework” is distinct from nagging, which they helpfully defined. Helping one’s partner remember tasks to which they have already committed is part of the mental work of being in a couple, they say. Whereas nagging…

…is motivated “not by a desire to help a partner remember an action he or she already intended to perform and has temporarily forgotten, but to wrestle compliance from a partner who has not yet committed to performing an action because, unlike the nagger, he or she does not believe the activity is important.

And women could be disadvantaging themselves by their behavior, the research suggests, because keeping track of tasks—one’s own or a partner’s—takes up space that could be used for other things. And we’re already doing it too much.

“A growing body of evidence reveals that outstanding tasks are a primary source of distraction—people’s mind-wandering often entails thoughts of outstanding errands and unfinished business,” which stopping us being effective at achieving individual goals, the authors write.