Proof You Might Have a Better Sense of Direction than your Girlfriend
One of the most common stereotypes we think of when it comes to men and women trying to get somewhere is that men won’t ask for directions when their lost. But some new research might be suggesting that men are less likely to get lost to begin with, since it seems like having a sense of direction might be a gender based thing. Yes, this research done at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology is claiming that men just naturally have a better sense of direction.
To conduct this research, they asked men and women to perform tasks in a virtual environment where they used a joystick and 3D goggles. While they did this they laid on a fMRI table which neuroimaging machine similar to an MRI that shows brain activity by marking the areas with increases in blood flow.
The participants were tested with 45 different navigation tasks in a maze with 30 seconds allotted for each task. Before they were presented with the tasks they were each given an hour to learn and remember the layout the maze to mentally refer to. Examples of tasks were things like finding a certain colored car within the maze.
Overall 18 men and 18 women were tested in identical ways, but the spread was pretty wide on how they performed. The men ended up solving 50 percent more of the tasks than the women did. The men ended up taking more shortcuts than the women did since they navigated themselves by pointing in the general direction of where they were trying to go, as opposed to the women who tended to go by landmarks to get around.
In addition to those differences, it was obvious that the men and women physically used different areas of their brains as well. The men showed a lot of activity in the hippocampus, while the women used the frontal section of the brain. A good way to translate this is that men might find the store faster, while women might find the keys in the house faster. From an evolutionary standpoint, this could have something to do with how we developed with men as hunters and women as gatherers.
To continue on with the study after getting these results, the researchers chose certain women to give testosterone to with the intention of seeing whether they could change how they used their brains to complete tasks.
The researchers kept one control group who received a placebo, and the other half got some testosterone under the tongue. They did find that some of the women who received the testosterone were better able to orient themselves with the cardinal directions, but they did not find that they were any more likely to have gotten better at completing the tasks asked of them.
The takeaway from this is that yes, perhaps you don’t need to ask for directions as much as your girlfriend might. However, probably don’t try to rub this in unless you’re asking for trouble. And remember that just because your brain might work in different ways, it doesn’t mean that they don’t both have their benefits in different scenarios.
About Kate Ferguson Kate Fergus is a Los Angeles local and freelance writer for a variety of blogs and online magazines. When she's not writing, the UC Davis graduate is focused on pursuits of the entertainment industry, spin class, and hot sauce.