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Are men actually better at navigation than women?

It’s a question that’s been causing arguments for years, but is there any truth to the claim that men are better at navigation than women?

Well, as it turns out, there is. A recent study by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found men had, in fact, a better sense of direction.

18 men and 18 women were given a virtual maze to memorise for an hour, before being given 45 30-second navigation tasks to complete. Neural activity was monitored by an fMRI scanner during each way-finding test.

The results showed men completed 50 per cent more of the tasks than women and that the male brain used the hippocampus, while women used their frontal lobes.

Researchers believe the hippocampus ─ a part of the brain associated with memory and navigation ─ is the culprit, with men said to have a larger one than the fairer sex. Although there have been studies that found there is no discernible difference.

The study’s lead author, Carl Pintzka, said of the findings: “Men’s sense of direction was more effective. They quite simply got to their destination faster.”

But why is that? Pintzka explained one possible theory: “In ancient times, men were hunters and women were gatherers. Therefore, our brains probably evolved differently.

“For instance, other researchers have documented that women are better at finding objects locally than men. In simple terms, women are faster at finding things in the house, and men are faster at finding the house.

“That’s in sync with the fact that the hippocampus is necessary to make cardinal directions.”

This would explain why men are seemingly unable to find the most obvious of objects, even if it’s right under their nose.

The test was originally setup to find out if testosterone could be a cure for a bad sense of direction. It found neural activity was heightened throughout the test group of 42 men and women who took it, but there was no evidence to suggest directional ability improved as a result.

Pintzka added: “We hoped that they [the women administered with testosterone] would be able to solve more tasks, but they didn’t.

“But they had improved knowledge of the layout of the maze. And they used the hippocampus to a greater extent, which tends to be used more by men for navigating.”

Now before you get all angry at a study into the whole man versus woman argument, the research is part of a wider study into why Alzheimer’s affects men and women differently.

By having a greater understanding of the male and female brain, Pintzka hopes to work out why 50 per cent more women get Alzheimer’s and to come up with better coping strategies for those who suffer from it.


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