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Tell Men Directions, Give
Women Landmarks

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Men and women may not only be from two different planets--Mars and Venus--they also seem to have two totally different ways to reach these and other destinations. But whether the man or woman is the superior navigator appears to depend on the navigation strategy used, researchers report.

Previous studies have indicated that women tend to rely on landmarks and other environmental information when attempting to reach a particular location. Men, however, tend to use Euclidean or orientation strategies such as specific north and south directions and exact distances, which is thought to give them the advantage of correctly assessing their position and changing direction after making a wrong turn.

"The take-home message of this research is that men and women differ in their ability to use different features of the environment as cues for navigating," lead study author Dr. Deborah M. Saucier of the University of Saskatchewan told Reuters Health.

"Men are less able than women to use landmark-based instructions, and women are less able than men to use abstract Euclidean instructions," she explained.

To investigate, Saucier and her colleagues performed a study in which 42 undergraduate men and women had to find their way to four unknown destinations on their university campus using a set of either orientation-style or landmark instructions.

Overall, women who followed orientation-style directions made many more mistakes and arrived at the destination much later than women who followed landmark directions and than men who followed either orientation or landmark directions, the investigators report in the June issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.

Furthermore, in a second pencil and paper navigation task involving 40 different university students, men who followed orientation-style instructions again made fewer mistakes than women who followed orientation-style instructions. These men also outperformed males who followed landmark instructions, making fewer errors and completing the exercise more quickly, the report indicates.

Women who followed landmark-style instructions, however, completed the exercise more quickly than men who followed similar directions and women who followed orientation-style directions.

Thus, the findings suggest that "when women are given the appropriate type of instructions, they do as well as men at navigation tasks," Saucier said.

The reason for the apparent sex-specific superiority in navigation strategies may be associated with the biological differences between men and women, according to Saucier. Her previous research findings suggest that the hormone testosterone may have an effect on one's navigational ability.

"Women with relatively high levels of endogenous testosterone...are better able to incorporate their current position in the environment and to follow abstract-based instructions--such as go 100 meters and turn north," she said. "The same can be said for men with relatively low levels of testosterone--they are better at navigating using abstract features of the environment than men with relatively high levels of testosterone.

"These results point to a biological basis for these abilities, rather than a social-learning perspective," she explained.

SOURCE: Behavioral Neuroscience 2002;116:403-410.

Reference Source 89


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