It’s a pretty common trope to say that men are better at directions than women. But a new experiment conducted by scientists at University College London have found that while it’s true that men tend to be better at navigation, the reason has very little to do with natural gendered ability and unfortunately, a lot more to do with rampant global inequality.
The experiment arrived at this conclusion by using a computer game called Sea Hero Quest which they hoped would help them come up with a more conclusive test for dementia. The game asks players to help recover a sailor’s memories by having them chart different courses around oceans and desert islands. Around four million people played the game as it anonymously tracks and measures their navigational ability.
The results of the game showed that men were more skilled with navigation. However, Professor Hugo Spiers measured the results against the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index when he noticed something strange.
“So countries where there is high equality between men and women, the difference between men and women is very small on our spatial navigation test,” he said. “But when there’s high inequality the difference between men and women is much bigger. And that suggests the culture people are living in has an effect on their cognitive abilities.”
Essentially, the reason men are better at navigation has little to do with natural ability and a lot more to do with factors like access to education and even literacy. In countries where there is massive inequality between men and women, Sea Hero Quest showed a far larger gap in navigational skills between the two groups. It seems that wealth and education are the two biggest factors at play, as the study found that those who live in wealthier countries tend to be much better navigators in general.