You just cross the rivers and turn right!

Yesterday was our TA, Kris’ 25th birthday, and to celebrate we decided to go out to dinner.  He made reservations at Galerie 88, at 88 Quai de l’Hôtel de ville, Paris.  Like usual, I looked up how to get there and found the route below:

Directions from Cite Universitaire to Galerie 88

I thought that the easiest way was to get off the RER, cross both rivers, and turn right. Turns out that our TA ended up coming with us and he looked up directions as well, but in a different way than I did.  Instead of just using landmarks he looked up each street name and which direction to turn on them, which just seems way too complicated and confusing for me.  I told him that people in Rhode Island always give directions with landmarks since everyone probably knows what you are referring to.   It was then I learned that it was not just because of my small state that I focus on landmarks, but because I am a woman. 

Map we both looked at, he memorized the streets, I just crossed the rivers and turned right

I honestly did not believe them but sure enough when I got home and looked it up, I found a lot of information on how men typically use streets and cardinal directions and women use landmarks and lefts and rights (James MD Jr., 1998).  One particular study I read investigated age and gender differences in different orientation strategies.

Lui et al. used an online battery, or a series of 6 tests, to test for different orientation strategies.  There was the Landmark Recognition test which assessed the ability to recognize landmarks encountered during navigation; the Left/Right Orientation test which assessed the ability to learn a route by following left/right body turns without any landmarks; the Path Reversal test which assessed the ability to recognized the ability to go back to starting point without landmarks; the Heading Orientation test which  evaluated the ability of the individual to perform a route based on left/right turns associated with selective landmarks; and finally the last two, Cognitive Map Formation and the Cognitive Map Use test, which assessed the ability of individuals to form and make use of mental representation of the environment. 634 volunteers participated in the testing and were scored on the number of correct responses during each individual test.  Men were able to form and make use of cognitive maps better than women, so they had a better mental representation of the environment (Liu et al., 2011).  Men performing better spatially made sense to me since I remember learning in my NBB 302 class that men generally have a slightly larger parietal cortex, relating to improved performance on spatial tasks.  Liu et al. also made a new observation that men performed better in the path reversal test.  They explained how it is novel, but it is consistent with the knowledge that men process distance/metric information better than women during navigation (Liu et al., 2011).

I was surprised that men and women performed equally on the Landmark Recognition test.  The lack of variation between the genders could have been due to the fact that it was a virtual navigation, and the participants never actively navigated.  Liu et al. did recognize that active and passive learning of spatial environments could lead to different performance data and that further studies could be performed.

Overall I understood how men essentially have a spatial map in their head when following directions which probably accounts for their sense of direction.  One thing I know for sure is I did not have to look at the map again once we started off for the restaurant, and Kris stopped twice.   I’m sticking with using landmarks…

Cheers to your birthday Kris!

~Sarah Harrington

James MD Jr. E-LC, Rebecca AS, Rhonda M (1998) Spatial Ability, Navigation Strategy, and Geographic Knowledge Among Men and Women. Evolution & Human Behavior 19:89-98.

Liu I, Levy RM, Barton JJ, Iaria G (2011) Age and gender differences in various topographical orientation strategies. Brain research 1410:112-119.



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