Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara lead by Alexander Boone and his group are really attempting to look for the response to this question. “Are men or women better at direction?”
According to a study published in the May 2018 issue of the Journal Memory & Cognition, men and women use very different navigation strategies.
There is by all accounts evidence to back up why men and women navigate roads differently. The study, out of the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that men are more likely to take shortcuts, while women are more likely to wander.
Their study consisted of two experiments and a survey, using the University of California, Santa Barbara undergraduate students as subjects. The first experiment placed subjects in a virtual reality maze with various objects to serve as landmarks (think chair, duck, plant, soccer ball, car, etc.). They were directed to travel through the maze on a particular path to become familiar with it and then navigate back to specific objects they’d passed.
The second experiment, using a different group of test subjects, was much like the first, except the maze also contained background landmarks such as trees and mountains, to see if their presence helped the subjects process and navigate the space any easier.
What both experiments demonstrated is that the men were more likely to use their surroundings (those trees and mountains) to identify and use shortcuts, while the women were more likely to wander (meaning repeating areas of the route) until they found the correct route. Because men used shortcuts, they also tended to arrive at the destination faster than the women.
So what’s next for Boone and the information he and his researcher’s gathered? For now, he says, it’s basic research level information. “There are a lot of open questions still left to look at before we can get to applied work-like training paradigms,” he said. “First and foremost, we need to know if this same effect is seen in the real world, which is the subject of some research in our lab right now.” The study complements Boone’s other research on spatial relations and he hopes it will lead to a greater understanding of these differences.