Well, this is going to prove controversial. A study has claimed that men have a better sense of direction than women – and when women are given a drop of testosterone, their sense of direction improves. Pitchforks at the ready.
The study, published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research, was carried out by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. It should definitely be noted that it was pretty limited: In the first experiment, 18 men and 18 women were used, while the second used 42 women.
Nonetheless, the researchers say their study shows evidence for men having a better sense of direction. In the first part, participants were hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, and asked to complete a virtual maze.
Men were found to use cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) better. They reached the end of the maze quicker, and also completed more allocated tasks along the way, such as finding a yellow car. The participants used 3D goggles and a joystick in the maze while images of their brains were recorded.
"Men's sense of direction was more effective. They quite simply got to their destination faster," said Carl Pintzka, a medical doctor and PhD candidate at NTNU's Department of Neuroscience, in a statement.
In the second experiment, 42 women were split into two groups of 21. Half were given a "drop of testosterone", and half were given a placebo. It was double blinded, so neither the researchers nor the participants knew which group had received what.
While women in this experiment didn’t solve more tasks than those in the first, they appeared to have an "improved knowledge of the layout of the maze," according to Pintzka. "And they used the hippocampus to a greater extent, which tends to be used more by men for navigating," he added.
The researchers suggest the differences are down to how our brains evolved, with men historically being hunters, and women gatherers. "In simple terms, women are faster at finding things in the house, and men are faster at finding the house," Pintzka said.
This flies in the face of growing research that male and female brains are essentially the same, though – particularly the size of the hippocampus. And given the limited number of participants in the study, it's certainly too early to draw any meaningful conclusions from these results. Nonetheless, losing a sense of direction is an early symptom of Alzheimer’s, and understanding more about the processes taking place could help combat the disease.
Still, it’s controversial. Please stop brandishing your pitchforks so intensely.