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Women who know their place: Sex-based differences in spatial abilities and their evolutionary significance

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Burke, A., Kandler, A., & Good, D. (2012). Women who know their place: Sex-based differences in spatial abilities and their evolutionary significance. Human Nature, 23(2), 133-148. doi:10.1007/s12110-012-9140-1.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-08F4-8
Abstract
Differences between men and women in the performance of tests designed to measure spatial abilities are explained by evolutionary psychologists in terms of adaptive design. The Hunter-Gatherer Theory of Spatial Ability suggests that the adoption of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (assuming a sexual division of labor) created differential selective pressure on the development of spatial skills in men and women and, therefore, cognitive differences between the sexes. Here, we examine a basic spatial skill-wayfinding (the ability to plan routes and navigate a landscape)-in men and women in a natural, real-world setting as a means of testing the proposition that sex-based differences in spatial ability exist outside of the laboratory. Our results indicate that when physical differences are accounted for, men and women with equivalent experience perform equally well at complex navigation tasks in a real-world setting. We conclude that experience, gendered patterns of activity, and self-assessment are contributing factors in producing previously reported differences in spatial ability.