Men are Better with Directions than Women, Study Says

By Cheri Cheng - 09 Dec '15 16:55PM

According to a new study, men have a better sense of direction than women.

For this research, a team of neuroscientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology recruited 36 participants with an equal split in gender. The participants had one hour to navigate a virtual maze game using a joystick and 3D goggles. Each participant was also given 30 seconds per navigational task. There were 45 tasks in total. While the participants were completing the experiment, the researchers monitored their brain activity use fMRI.

The team concluded that men were more likely to reach a destination faster than women were. The researchers also found that men tended to implement something they called a "world-centered strategy."

"World-centered strategy means the use of a cognitive map and cardinal directions to find your way," Carl Pintzka, the study's lead author, said in a statement reported by the Huffington Post. "Women on the other hand used a more egocentric strategy (self-centered), which means they relied more on a route of landmarks to get to the target."

The researchers then explained that having a cardinal sense of direction is more helpful since one cannot rely on landmarks to figure out destination in every situation. With the cardinal system, there is also more flexibility.

"If they're going to the Student Society building in Trondheim, for example, men usually go in the general direction where it's located. Women usually orient themselves along a route to get there, for example, 'go past the hairdresser and then up the street and turn right after the store,'" Pintzka said reported in the press release

From the brain scans, the researchers found differences in brain activity between men and women. Men used their hippocampus more than women whereas women tended to rely on their pre- and orbitofrontal cortex. Men also had more connectivity and synchronicity in areas that have been linked to navigational skills.

In a second study that involved 42 different women, the same researchers gave half of the group a drop of testosterone that was placed under the tongue while the other half received a placebo. The women went through the same navigational tests.

The team found that some women from the testosterone group were able to orient themselves better but overall, they did not complete any more tasks than the women from the placebo group.

"We hoped that they would be able to solve more tasks, but they didn't," Pintzka said. "But they had improved knowledge of the layout of the maze."

The study was published in Behavioral Brain Research.

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