It’s been well established that men perform better than women when it comes to specific spatial tasks. But how much of that is linked to sex hormones versus cultural conditioning and other factors?
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) decided to explore this idea by administering testosterone to women and testing how they performed in wayfinding tasks in a virtual environment.
Using fMRI, the researchers saw that men in the study took several shortcuts, oriented themselves more using cardinal directions and used a different part of the brain than the women in the study.
But when women got a drop of testosterone under their tongue, several of them were able to orient themselves better in the four cardinal directions.
“Men’s sense of direction was more effective. They quite simply got to their destination faster,” says Carl Pintzka, a medical doctor and PhD candidate at NTNU’s Department of Neuroscience.
The directional sense findings are part of his doctoral thesis on how the brain functions differently in men and women.
Puzzle solving in a 3D maze
Pintzka used an MRI scanner to see whether there are any differences in brain activity when men and women orient themselves. Using 3D goggles and a joystick, the participants had to orient themselves in a very large virtual maze while functional images of their brains were continuously recorded.
Eighteen men and 18 women first took an hour to learn the layout of the maze before the scanning session. In the MRI scanner, they were given 30 seconds for each of the 45 navigation tasks. One of the tasks, for example, was to “find the yellow car” from different starting points.
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Image Source: nytlive.nytimes.com