There must be something in the Nordic air that has prompted them to re-examine those long held and accepted gender stereotypes using more contemporary techniques.
Last week the Arctic University of Norway announced that its extensive research had proven that men are better at assembling flat pack furniture; now Norway’s University of Science and Technology has published the results of a research programme into gender specific abilities to navigate in an unknown space.
Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time that the theory has been tested in laboratory conditions and the researchers fully expected to see the results confirm earlier research that men do indeed seem to negotiate their way through unfamiliar environments much more easily than women, by a considerable factor it turns out (on average men complete 50% more of the tasks than the women).
What was new in this suite of tests was the constant measurement by MRI of the brain activity of each subject while they were completing the tasks.
Each subject was given a set of 45 navigational tasks to complete with a time limit of 30 seconds for each test.
The researchers found that in male subjects the main neural activity centred on the hippocampus , a part of the brain associated with navigational skills and in particular with the ability to use ‘world centred’ strategies, like aiming in the right general direction and fine tuning as they approach a destination.
The MRI results were very different for women, showing far more activity in the pre- and orbitofrontal cortex which is the decision-making part of the brain.
According to the researchers, this indicated that women were constantly checking their position and making smaller decisions about where to go (e.g. to the next corner and check again) sticking to a far more egocentric strategy by creating a precise ‘route’ for themselves rather than the cardinal direction approach favoured by the men.
The researchers considered the difference to be the result of evolutionary experience casting man as the hunter and women as the gatherer.
Seems as good an excuse as any…
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