If you’re convinced that men are better at directions than women based on years of personal experience being better at directions than your wife, there’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that a raft of recent articles claimed that science now officially backs you up. The bad news is that, despite what nearly all those articles report, it might have nothing to do with your testosterone.
The actual study, out of the Norwegian University Of Science And Technology, gave 42 women either .5 mg of testosterone or a placebo to determine if the big T would improve their navigational skills. Being neuroscientists, they were mostly interested in what was going on in these women’s brains, and they found that the testosterone did equate to more activity in the area of the brain related to spatial skills. Unfortunately (for proponents of the “dudes are way better at maps” contingent, anyway), that increased brain activity didn’t equate to increased “navigation success and navigation strategy.” In plain English: those women weren’t any better at getting around than the women who took the placebo.
Flickr / sacks08
So … what accounts for headlines like “Sorry Ladies! Men Really Do Have A Better Sense Of Direction“? The same Norwegian researchers do have another study that’s still currently under review by a scientific journal, according to researcher Carl Pintzka, and that preliminary research found men to be 50 percent better than women at solving navigational challenges in a virtual maze. Unfortunately (again, if you’re invested in the whole “being naturally better than your wife at directions” thing), these findings might break down due to another age-old, gender-related assumption: size matters.
The study under review only used 18 men and women, which is an awfully small sample size for anyone to be declaring anything definitive about the findings. As neuroscientist Lise Eliot told Wired: “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.”
For example, one recent finding that coalesced around very large samples of males and females? There is no no visible differences between male and female brains.