Neutral Navigation: Men No Better At Reading Maps Than Women, Study Finds

LIMERICK, Ireland — It might make for a good debate between many couples, particularly those who once had to find their way around without Siri’s help: who’s better at reading a map? Well, a new study shows that while old stereotypes may assume men hold that honor, it turns out both are equally equipped to do the job. That’s because while a woman may approach a task that involves spatial cognition differently than a man, ultimately she will come to the same conclusion just as efficiently. That’s the main finding of a recent study conducted at the University of Limerick’s Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software.

For reference, spatial cognition is one’s ability to understand and navigate their environment.

Through the use of state-of-the-art eye tracking technology, the research team found that men enjoy no advantage whatsoever regarding mental rotation abilities linked to spatial cognition.

According to one of the study’s authors, Dr. Mark Campbell, scientists have been claiming for the better part of 40 years that men have stronger spatial cognition skills. Those of the belief that men possess superior skills in this regard have pointed to higher scores among males in mental rotations tests.

“Better performance on these tests is strongly associated with higher IQ and better performance in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) subjects in schools and colleges,” Dr. Campbell explains in a release.

A total of 100 students (47 men & 53 women) from Limerick University took part in the research. All were in good health and had an average age of 23. Participants were tasked with completing 15-minute mental rotation tests online. Researchers measured changes in individuals’ gaze and pupil size during the exams.

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“So males are better than females? Well no, actually. Our study found that there is no male advantage in mental rotation abilities. By lengthening the time allowed to complete the test, the male performance advantage diminished entirely suggesting that the so-called sex difference in mental rotation is simply not there or may be explained by other factors,” comments co-author Dr. Adam Toth.

This project also revealed, for the first time ever, that men and women both utilize a variety of different “gaze strategies” while solving a cognitive problem. Essentially, researchers say this means that men and women often approach problems differently, but both genders will often come to the same conclusion.

So next time you’re stuck reading a map without digital assistance, perhaps a team effort will prove to be the best option.

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

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