New Study Disproves Assumption That Men Are Better Navigators Than Women
by Trisha Leigh
It turns out that a lot of the beliefs we’ve held for a very long time regarding the “natural” divisions between men and women aren’t actually based in fact.
For me, this is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s probably coming as a shock to some.
The latest one to be called into question? The idea that men are naturally better navigators than women.
This recent and comprehensive study found that if there are differences in our wayfinding abilities, it has nothing to do with natural selection or evolution at all.
In the past, hundreds of studies have found otherwise. Using spatial cognition as a bar, results have shown that males outperform females in multiple spatial tasks and to varying degrees.
The authors of the current study muse on why the idea has been so popular.
“The tendency to explain differences between men and women as products of natural selection is especially common in evolutionary psychology, where there is a long-standing preoccupation with cognitive differences between the groups.”
These differences are typically explained by the “male/female-specific adaptation hypothesis,” which compares humans to other species where the males have larger home ranges than females. In theory, this is because males experience more selection for wayfinding skills.
For this study, researchers examined the differences in wayfinding in 21 different species, humans included, and compared the sizes of their home ranges.
Other animals included were small-clawed otters, brilliant-thighed poison frogs, Californian mice, chimpanzees, rats, horses, giant pandas, and so on.
The results revealed little – if any – differences in home range size as determined by male or female.
“Over the past half-century, significant resources have gone into testing the male/female-specific adaptation hypothesis as an explanation for male/female differences in navigation abilities. In a previous meta-analysis, we found the evidence was weak, and in this paper with an expanded dataset, we again find little evidence supporting the male/female-specific adaptation hypothesis.”
Male/female differences can arise from biological or cultural factors as well, as brains are plastic and easy at adapting.
“Recent evidence in subsistence populations strongly suggest that male/female difference in spatial navigation in humans is not a cultural universal. Rather, it disappears in cultures where males and females have similar ranging behavior.”
They believe further research will parse out exactly when and why these differences arise.
“We believe that future research on human male/female differences in navigation should focus on the role of socialization and culture, rather than evolutionary genetic factors.”
So, there you have it.
All of you women who swear your husband would get lost for a week before asking for directions just might have a point after all.
If you think that’s interesting, check out this story about a “goldmine” of lithium that was found in the U.S. that could completely change the EV battery game.