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MEN RULE! New Study Finds Men Are Better Navigators Than Women

By  Joseph Curl

Men are better navigators than women.

Boom. Done. End of argument. (And if you look closely at the above picture, you’ll see the woman is holding the map upside down!).

Sure, we men may not pull over and ask for directions when we’re lost, ladies, but just remember next time that we are better than you at navigating, so just sit quietly in the passenger seat and we’ll get you where you’re going.

A new study by psychologists at the University of California at Santa Barbara finds that men are “significantly more efficient” than women at navigating because men take shortcuts while women usually stick to well-known routes. That means that where a woman would simply sit in the gridlock on the packed interstate, men will hit the open back roads and weave their way to their destination.

In a heavily footnoted piece (so you know it’s gotta’ be true!) in the journal “Memory & Cognition,” the psychologists found that “there are differences between men and women when performing large-scale spatial tasks in real environments.”

A male advantage is often found in tasks that require survey knowledge (Coluccia & Louse, 2004). For example, males perform better in pointing to unseen locations in a known environment (Ishikawa & Montello, 2006), in remaining oriented to compass directions in unfamiliar environments (Sholl, Acacio, Makar, & Leon, 2000), in keeping track of the starting point while taking a circuitous walk (Silverman et al., 2000), and following navigation instructions that use cardinal directions and metric distances (Saucier et al., 2002). Some of the most pronounced sex differences are found in measures of navigation efficiency (e.g., time to navigate to a goal location). For example, males are significantly faster to escape a virtual maze (Grön, Wunderlich, Spitzer, Tomczak, & Riepe, 2000; Moffat, Hampson, & Hatzipantelis, 1998) and make fewer moves navigating through a wire-frame virtual environment (Cutmore, Hine, Maberly, Langford, & Hawgood, 2000). In contrast, there are no systematic sex differences in tasks that can be accomplished with route and landmark knowledge, such as when learning from a map, retracing a learned route, or remembering landmarks along a route (Coluccia & Louse, 2004; Montello, Lovelace, Golledge, & Self, 1999; Saucier et al., 2002).

Sex differences are also found when people report their daily navigation strategies. Males more often report using survey-like strategies, such as taking shortcuts and focusing on distal landmarks to navigate, whereas females more often report using route-based strategies of following well-learned routes and depending on local landmarks (Coluccia & Louse, 2004; Lawton, 1994, 1996; Lawton & Kallai, 2002). Self-report measures have the limitation that they rely on people having accurate metacognitive knowledge of their own abilities and strategies, so it is important to validate self-reports against objective measures of navigation performance. However, there has been relatively little research that has used objective measures of navigation strategies or that has related self-reported strategies to objective measures of the strategies that people adopt when they actually navigate.

Wow. This writing is so good it must have been written by a man (it was, Alexander Boone, a graduate student at the UC Santa Barbara Hegarty Spatial Thinking Lab and the leader of the study).

The study used two experiments, writes, the sister-site of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The first experiment asked 68 participants to navigate a computer maze to reach designated locations. They also answered questions about their sense of direction, the strategies they used and whether they play video games.

A second test, taken by 72 participants, used different versions of the maze with and without “distal landmarks” like trees, to probe how the different genders use such markers when navigating.

“In both experiments, men were significantly more efficient than women, even after controlling for the effects of strategy,” Boone said in a press release.

“As predicted from previous research, these experiments showed that men were more likely to take shortcuts and on average reached their goal location faster than women. In contrast, female participants were more likely to follow learned routes and wander,” Boone said.

Wander indeed.

“According to Boone and his colleagues, when a person wanders it suggests that he or she does not have adequate knowledge about the specific landmarks in a certain area. He says that the finding that women tend to wander more might reflect a possible inability on their part to learn the layout of an area, at least with the amount of familiarization they receive in this experiment.”

“Possible” inability? That’s nice of you, Alex.

So next time, ladies, just trust us. We’re better at this. And most other things, too.

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