Imaging the brain at multiple scales: how to integrate multi...
Why women can't drive.
During the daily routine of a common household generally the man and woman subdivide and take on different tasks. At dawn, when the husband leaves for work, he leaves his wife who then continues her chore of maintaining the order within the homely environment. Perhaps she will go to the supermarket for groceries or stay at home to clean up the place. When, in the afternoon, the couple goes to have dinner with friends, it is likely that the husband will navigate their way to the restaurant by using a map. Upon return, wife and husband disagree in the bedroom how big thirty centimetres really is.
These trivial examples modestly point out how the sexes are distinguished in their spatial abilities, navigation, and orientation. This division on itself is not novel and was already present in ancient hunter-gatherer societies. Comparing those and present ones to contemporary forms of cohabitation between the sexes, indeed we can draw many parallels. Similar to the husband from the introduction, the ‘hunter’ man would go out to collect the resources necessary to make a leaving. In turn, the female gatherer would stay closer to the home site and forage for foods from the local environment. The term ‘Hunter-gatherer society’ thus refers to the distinct roles of the sexes.
How it came to be that the sexes were ascribed to different tasks remains as a matter of dispute, however more clear is that the task division has caused the sexes to develop spatial abilities in different ways. Indeed women possess better “spatial location memory”(Buss, 2008), which gives them an advantage at recalling the location of and spatial relationships between objects from a set. Conversely men perform better than women at navigation and three dimensional rotation tasks (Silverman&Eals, 1992). Men and women furthermore differ at processing visual data depending on distance. Whereas woman are better than men at processing visual data within the range of 50 cm, men do better than woman when the turning point of 100 cm in range is exceeded (Silverman&Eals, 1992). The universality of differences in orientation skills between the sexes has been proven across cultures by Silverman, Choi and Peters (2007).
From this point the dots have to be connected between environmental pressures and developed skills. As men went out hunting, good orientation skills would help them not to get lost and thus the skill of orientation was naturally selected for and developed in men (Buss, 2008). Moreover, the ability of men to apprehend weapons is connected to making mental spatial transformations. Finally, processing visual information from a large distance comes beneficial to men in hunting as they have to spot game from far away. On the other hand, good processing of visual data of near objects is beneficial to female gatherers as they pick edible foods within easy reach. Also female gatherers are urged to have a good memory of foraging locations, and more specifically the how these are spatially organised. It can for example be an economical advantage to know that next the berry plant there grows another edible resource.
To see how the differences between the sexes in spatial abilities arose is not only interesting, it also promotes understanding of common ‘weaknesses’ of both sexes. For example men could be more forgiving when they are frustrated by a woman having trouble with parking a car. In turn women could be more lenient towards men who refuse to ask for directions. I myself hope that my mother will finally accept the mess my room is.
Buss, D.M. (2008) . Evolutionary psychology. The new science of mind.
Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Silverman, I., & Eals, M. (1992) . Sex differences in spatial abilities:
Evolutionary theory and data. In J.H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby
(Eds.) , The adapted mind (pp.533-549) . New York: Oxford University
Silverman, I., Choi, J., & Peters, M. (2007) . On the universality of sexrelated
spatial competencies. Archives of Sexual Behaviour ; 36, 261-