It is an age-old assumption that men are better drivers than women. But a new study regarding the bad sense of direction while driving might cast doubt on this notion. The study was initiated by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) to find out if testosterone would help in improving the sense of direction in women as well.
According to the study, 42 men and 42 women were given equal quantities of testosterone and then their neural performance was monitored during a navigation assignment. The research team found out that men were able to excel at wayfinding tasks better than all the women, and that the administration of testosterone dosages transformed the neural activity in the participants.
However, according to the scientists, the results were inconclusive as to whether testosterone was the only reason that resulted in an improved sense of direction. The authors of the study wrote in their report that “Studies have consistently shown that males perform better than females on several spatial tasks. Although the testosterone group performed slightly better, the navigation success and the navigation strategy were similar in those administered with a placebo. Complex behaviors such as navigation, relying more on learned strategies, were not altered despite increased neuronal activity in relevant brain regions.”
The researchers still believe that there is a neurological reason that allows men to exhibit better navigational capabilities than females. To record data on this point, 18 men and women were monitored, and the data of their neural capability was analyzed after orienting them to find their way in a virtual maze. The participants were given an hour to learn the layout of the maze, after which they were connected to an fMRI scanner. They were each given navigational tasks, each with a 30 second time limit. The men were able to solve 50% more tasks than women, on average.
Carl Pintzka, lead author of the study, and a Ph.D. candidate in NTNU’s neuroscience department said, “Men’s sense of direction was more effective. They quite simply got to their destination faster. 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.”
The fMRI scans show that men have enhanced activity in their hippocampus region, which is necessary for sensing cardinal directions and retaining memory. In contrast to that, women used more of their frontal lobe, even after testosterone administration.
Lise Eliot, the lead author of the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science’s study, explained the brain size and operation in both sexes by saying, “Sex differences in the brain are irresistible to those looking to explain differences between men and women. They often make a big splash. But as we explore multiple data sets and are able to coalesce very large samples of males and females, we find these differences often disappear or are trivial.”