Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of gender on the neural substrates of theories on consumer behavior (i.e. the original compared with the revised versions of consumer learning [CL] theory) and to examine whether gender influences brain activation associated with word-of-mouth (WOM) communications (i.e. information specificity, source expertise and tie strength) after a product harm crisis. This article also discusses the WOM effects of product quality perception, negative emotion and purchase intentions by precise localizing brain activity. Design/methodology/approach: This study applied functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity (i.e. the blood oxygen level-dependent signal) during WOM communication after a product harm crisis. Findings: The male participants treat the product quality as a constant and tend to support the original CL theory. The female participants, however, showed differentiable brain activation across three factors, suggesting a dynamic representation for product quality (i.e. not a constant), and they appear to be more sensitive to the revised CL theory. Originality/value: This paper concluded that the original CL theory applies to males and the revised version applies to females. Therefore, gender determines whether the original or the revised version of the CL theory works in consumers’ decision-making, and the extant of research has not focused on the information after a product harm crisis in terms of whether the information being communicated is specific or tensile through WOM communication.