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Published on: December 12, 2015
by Suzette Gutierrez for World & Headline News:
Men really are better at navigating and finding their way around compared to women, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
To test men’s and women’s ability to solve spatial tasks, the researchers recruited 18 men and 18 women for the first part of the study, during which they were shown a maze using 3-D glasses. After allowing them to familiarize themselves with the layout, they were asked to solve 45 navigation tasks, with only 30 seconds given for each task.
The tasks included finding a specific item or place in the maze using various starting points. An MRI scanner was used to determine if there were differences in the brain activities of men and women.
The men were able to solve 50 percent more tasks than women, showing that they have a better sense of direction than women, researchers said.
This was due, in part, to the fact that men used cardinal directions as they tried to find their way, meaning they would head in the general direction of the place or item they were looking for. Women remembered specific routes to get to their desired location.
“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,'” Dr. Carl Pintzka, medical doctor and Ph.D candidate from the Department of Neuroscience at NTNU, said in a press release.
Men got to their destination more quickly because it did not matter where their starting point was.
MRI scans showed that men used the hippocampus more while women used the frontal lobes more. Pintzka said this could have something to do with the way men’s and women’s brains evolved; after all, men were the hunters and women were the gatherers.
“In simple terms, women are faster at finding things in the house, and men are faster at finding the house,” Pintzka said.
The second part of the study involved giving testosterone to a new group of 21 women to see if the hormone will help them navigate better. A placebo group of 21 other women was also included. The researchers found that although the testosterone did not help the women solve more tasks, it did help them have a better knowledge of the maze layout. Additionally, it allowed them to use their hippocampus more.
Drawing from the fact that losing sense of direction is one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, Pintzka said gender and the disease could be related, considering that there are twice as many women who develop Alzheimer’s.
“Almost all brain-related diseases are different in men and women, either in the number of affected individuals or in severity. Therefore, something is likely protecting or harming people of one sex,” Pintzka said.
The study was published online in the recent issue of Behavioural Brain Research.
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