Women navigate more efficiently than men

Women navigate more efficiently than men
Image credit: Pinar Ozger

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research from the National Autonomous University of Mexico suggests women navigate more efficiently than men in some circumstances, even though previous studies have shown that in general men score higher than women in tests of spatial ability and map reading.

The researchers, led by Luis Pacheco-Cobos, followed mushroom gatherers in a small village in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala for two wet seasons, with two researchers equipped with heart rate monitors and (GPS) devices following different gatherers each day. They recorded the routes taken and the weight of mushrooms collected by each person, and then analyzed the data, with the heart rate data giving an estimate of the energy used and the GPS data being used to create maps of the routes.

Their results showed the weight of mushrooms collected by was about the same as that collected by men, but men expended an average of 70% more energy to collect the mushrooms, roaming higher and further than the women. The women seemed to know where to go and stopped more frequently than the men, picking mushrooms they found in many small patches, while the men stopped less often, and spent their time searching for large patches of mushrooms.

Previous research on the way men and women navigate have indicated men tend to create mental maps and then mentally superimpose their position on the maps, while women tend to remember landmarks and memorize the route. The earlier research and the current study suggest women and have different navigational techniques and skills because they evolved to carry out different tasks: hunting for males, and gathering for females.

According to the theory, the differences began to evolve in the Pleistocene around 2.5 million years ago, with gatherers being better off following a strategy of remembering landmarks on the route to the most productive plant food sources and then retracing their steps exactly, but hunters needed to run long distances and follow winding routes to chase prey, and then wanted to take the shortest route home.

The results of the research will be published in the Evolution and Human Behaviour journal.

Explore further

Sexual orientation affects how we navigate and recall lost objects, but age just targets gender

More information: Sex differences in mushroom gathering: men expend more energy to obtain equivalent benefits, Evolution and Human Behaviour doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.12.008

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May 05, 2010
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May 05, 2010
It's very easy and convenient, isn't it Kevin? Having all the answers already neatly packed in a box marked "God". I've grown tired of attempting to convince your kind towards sanity. Instead I've learned that most religious people are easily manipulated, so I use this in my everyday life to affect the outcome of the interactions between me and my peers, towards my advantage. As long as you're following my lead, we can do it for Jesus or whoever you want as my concern is the product and your concern is pleasing your master. Cooperation at its best.

May 05, 2010
@kevinrtrs - Let's agree that God created Charles Darwin. The problem with invoking God in conversations is that people give him a face...namely, their own. With several billion imposters running around, and no way to differentiate...well, I'll let the Buddhists answer this one:

"If you meet the Buddha, kill him!"

May 05, 2010
Or maybe the men purposely roam farther afield so they can leave the "easy to get to" resources for the women.

May 05, 2010
While I will admit that my wife has better navigational ability than I do, she is probably an outlier in this. I also don't see this study as well set up for a couple of reasons, but mostly that it doesn't eliminate other factors in why the men would expend more energy. Although Carolina may have been sarcastic in her comment, we can't really count that possibility out, or just the tendency that men may have to want to want to push just a little bit further to see if they can find a large patch of mushrooms somewhere that hasn't been found yet -- something of a tendency to gamble, hoping to hit the jackpot.

There is also a great difference between map reading and spatial ability and the ability to navigate without a map. Between my wife and I, if both of us are given maps, I will always be able to determine where we are and the best route to get where we want to go first, but if both of us are without maps, she'll almost always do better. I've been trained in map reading, however.

May 05, 2010
Men spent more energy, but has that been compensated for since men burn more calories anyway? And it seems that the men held out for the bigger payoffs where women took the slow and steady approach. It seems like a study in personality rather than navigation.

And furthermore, if you don't accept evolution then you shouldn't be on a science based site. And to accuse people that don't believe of doing so simply to escape accountability is offensive to say the least. That would be like me calling you an idiot for believing in god and not evolution..... hmmmm. And I'm pretty sure your beliefs are based on the notion of escaping accountability through vicarious human sacrifice. I cannot escape what I do in life.

May 05, 2010
This seems more like an assessment of a strategy, or methodology, than a test of "navigational efficiency".

Why not a test of navigational or search methodology in finding a neutral value, terrain(environment)-independent item, like, say- a bag of money, or something like that?

It seems reasonable that the gatherer strategy would revolve around the efficient exploitation of a resource that is dispersed over a relatively wide area, in small, local concentrations, which depend on habitat, and are stationary -whereas the hunter strategy is to seek fewer, but larger(high-value) and mobile targets over a large area.
It seems pretty obvious that the two strategies would require somewhat different methods to accomplish, with one being favored over the other, depending upon the target.

This study, however, was clearly based in the "gatherer" strategy scenario.

May 05, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

May 05, 2010
Alizee is correct in acknowledging Trekgeek1 and Caliban.
The study appears to reflect the physical efficiency of the male as a gatherer as opposed to the female as a gatherer than anything else.
In their summarising, the reseatchers contradicted their claimed outcome.
They said women retraced their steps exactly, whereas the men covered greater distance and followed winding routes but then followed the shortest route home.
That is evidence of superior navigation skills. Because if they were unable to find the shortest route home they would have had to do as the women did and retrace the winding route they had taken.
To do that is memory not navigation.

May 06, 2010
I can see how women would use this skill every day - to find the best route from the pantry, to the stove, to the sink, to the laundry.

May 09, 2010
The usual nonsense of human beings evolving...
Please get it right: we were designed and created accordingly, we didn't evolve.

The problem with Creationists is really that they all act as if they understand the mind of God.

May 09, 2010
female animals must look for food around the nest but at same time protect the offspring and avoid exposure to predators, hence been optimised to meticulous detail of direct nest environment, avoid risk and make very efficient use of small patch, male been optimised to hunt big game, go baldy where no man has gone before and from there navigate back, big risk, big reward, or darwin award.

May 19, 2010
The usual nonsense of human beings evolving...
Please get it right: we were designed and created accordingly, we didn't evolve.
Well, I suppose it won't change: most people do not want to believe there is a supreme being known as God. This demands far too much personal responsibility as a consequence. Much easier to do as you please since you "evolved" and therefore is accountable to no-one.

I prefer to believe in science.

In order to get a benefit from God you need to believe in him and be subservient then you only receive the benefit after you die (maybe).

In order to receive a benefit from science you merely need to be alive. I choose life. I rather enjoy being alive, and if anything will get me more life or a better life, it's science.

May 26, 2010
Interesting, More and more studies are showing that women do better at more and more things than their male counterparts. This does not surpise me nor does it suprise many of the both men and women I know. Now that women are being given a fair shot at education and other things males took for granted for eons, I think we will see women leaving the males in the dust. (But we still want you guys around)

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