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Who Navigates More Effectively: Men or Women? (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by on Jan 4, 2016 in gender differences in navigation, hippocampus, navigation, neuroscience, personal navigation, Wayfinding, wayfinding and the brain | 0 comments

Who Navigates More Effectively: Men or Women? (Part 1 of 2)

The 2015 wayfinding story that grabbed the most attention pertains to that old battle of the sexes (often taking place in the front seats of cars): who has the better sense of direction: men or women?

Spoiler alert: in one Norwegian study, men did better at finding their way quickly in a virtual environment.

The study was conducted by medical doctor and PhD candidate, Carl Pintzka, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. He used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity when 18 men and 18 women used 3D goggles and a joystick to orient themselves in a large virtual maze. After an hour in which they could learn the layout, each participant had 30 seconds to accomplish each of 45 navigation tasks. Pintzka found that the 18 men solved 50% more of the tasks than did the 18 women. His MRI images showed that the male subjects used the hippocampus area of the brain more often, while the female subjects used the frontal areas more often.

While the study’s findings could be questioned on the basis of its small sample size and possibility that the female subjects may have been less familiar with virtual technology, the study director added an interesting twist which gives the findings more credence.

In the second part of the study – 42 (different) women were given either a drop of testosterone (male hormone) or a drop of placebo and then were asked to navigate in the virtual maze. The study was “double blind” so neither the subjects nor the principal investigator knew which 21 women got the testosterone and which 21 got the placebo.

The women who received a drop of testosterone “had improved knowledge of the layout of the maze” and used their hippocampus more as they navigated it.

Thus, it appears that the male hormone testosterone makes a positive difference in personal navigation.

Here’s the citation:

Carl W.S. Pintzka, Hallvard R. Evensmoen, Hanne Lehn, Asta K. Håberg. Changes in spatial cognition and brain activity after a single dose of testosterone in healthy women. Behavioural Brain Research, 2016; 298: 78 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2015.10.056


If you’re directionally challenged you need the award-winning book, Directional Sense: How to Find Your Way Around, by Janet R. Carpman and Myron A. Grant.



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