Science Says: Men Are Better Navigators

But not necessarily because of testosterone
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2015 6:19 AM CST
Updated Dec 13, 2015 2:10 PM CST
   (AP Photo/John Seewer)

(Newser) – "Men have a better sense of direction than women." So goes the headline on a press release outlining a new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The fact that men excel at certain spatial tasks, the release says, is well established. The goal of the study was to determine whether testosterone is the reason. Phase one involved 18 men and 18 women using a joystick and goggles to perform 45 navigation tasks, each with a 30-second time limit, on a 3D maze. They were hooked up to an fMRI machine that recorded their brain activity. The results: The men relied more on cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) took more shortcuts, and completed 50% more tasks than the women. And, researchers found, men and women use different parts of their brains—the hippocampus and frontal areas, respectively—for "wayfinding" tasks.

"In ancient times, men were hunters and women were gatherers. Therefore, our brains probably evolved differently," researcher Carl Pintzka theorizes. "In simple terms, women are faster at finding things in the house, and men are faster at finding the house." In phase two, a new group of women were given a drop of testosterone and then asked to perform the navigation tasks. Researchers hoped they would complete more tasks. That didn’t happen, Pintzka says. However, their knowledge of the maze’s layout improved and they used the hippocampus more … like the men. The ultimate goal of the research, Pintzka says, is to gain more understanding about Alzheimer’s disease, which, per CNBC, affects many more women than men. Men’s prowess when it comes to navigation—and putting together furniture—isn’t necessarily cause for gloating. After all, women still live longer, are more likely to graduate college, and are better investors. (But a bit of bad news, women also are outpacing men when it comes to obesity.)

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