Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in today’s Teachers’ Toolkit.
- Why did the new study conclude that men have a better sense of direction than women?
- Well, it really didn’t. The study concluded that women given a dose of a male hormone were able to reach destinations more quickly than women who were not given the hormone.
- How was the study conducted?
- 1. Forty-two women were chosen for the test. All the women were right-handed, aged between 19 and 30, and used oral contraceptives. (The birth control pills allowed researchers to synchronize the women’s hormone levels.) Researchers always want to use test subjects that share many characteristics, so that test results can be narrowed to a short range of influences. In this case, results would not be determined by whether left-handed or right-handed women were better at navigation, or whether older or younger women were better at it.
- 2. The women were administered either a tiny, safe dose of testosterone (a male hormone) or a placebo.
- 3. The women familiarized themselves with a virtual environment.
- 4. The women were given wayfinding or navigational tasks within that virtual environment.
- 5. As the women worked to complete the tasks, their brains were (safely) scanned using fMRI technology. (fMRI stands for functional magnetic resonance imaging. fMRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to measure brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow.) The fMRI scans allowed researchers to see what parts of their brains the women were using to work on the wayfinding task.
- Why does the study say men have a better sense of direction than women, when no men were involved in testing the study?
- What was the point of this study—to prove that men are better at navigation than women?
- No. The study was a part of research into Alzheimer’s disease, which devastates the hippocampus and skills associated with it. Learn more about Alzheimer’s here.
Nat Geo: Maps of Familiar Places
(extra credit!) Behavioural Brain Research: Changes in spatial cognition and brain activity after a single dose of testosterone in healthy women