The idea that men have a better sense of direction than women might be an age-old cliche, but at least it’s one backed by science. Using an experiment where men and women were given 3D goggles and a joystick to orient themselves in a virtual maze while under an fMRI scanner, a team of neuroscientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that men have better spatial recognition and use more effective strategies to reach their destination than women. The researchers discovered a link between hormone levels and navigation skills, saying the difference is at least partly explicable by higher levels of testosterone. Men used the hippocampus more while finding their way, while women’s brains were wired to use the frontal cortex. “In simple terms, women are faster at finding things in the house, and men are faster at finding the house,” Dr. Carl W.S. Pintzka said. His team also found that, when putting a drop of testosterone under women’s tongues, this would “light up” their hippocampus, enhancing their navigational strategy and spatial knowledge. And no, the study was not just conducted in order to give more fodder to hacky comedians: it was actually designed in order to explore how Alzheimer’s disease develops, as sense of direction is one of the first skills to be affected during the onset of the disease. “Since we know that twice as many women as men are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, there might be something related to sex hormones that is harmful [sic],” Dr. Pintzka said.
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