U of U study suggests men’s navigation skills evolved to find more women

Posted at 10:38 AM, Nov 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-14 00:03:43-05

SALT LAKE CITY - A new study from the University of Utah may have found a reason why men seem to be better with directions and navigation than women.

The researchers say they found evidence that men evolved better navigation ability than women because men with better spatial skills can roam farther which allows them to find more mates and in turn have more children.

The study was published this week in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

Scientists interviewed members of two African tribes, Twe and Tjimba, in Namibia and found men who performed better on a spatial task not only traveled farther than other men but also had children with more women.

“It’s the first time anybody has tried to draw a line between spatial ability, navigation, range size and reproductive success," Layne Vashro said, the study’s first author and a postdoctoral researcher in anthropology. "Most of this chain has been assumed in the scientific literature.”

Anthropology professor Elizabeth Cashdan, the study’s senior author, said the spatial skills include “being able to visualize spatial relationships and manipulate that image in your mind.”

Vashro said an example is to “visualize how you fit a bunch of things into the back of a truck and how you could rotate them most efficiently to fit.”

“Among the most consistent sex differences found in the psychological literature are spatial ability and navigation ability, with men better at both,” Vashro said. “In the anthropological literature, one of the most consistent behavioral differences between men and women is the distance they travel. This difference in traveling is assumed to explain the observed differences in spatial ability and navigation ability. Now, we’ve drawn a link between spatial ability and range size.”

“The argument in the literature is that you need good spatial ability to navigate successfully, and you need to navigate effectively to travel long distances in unfamiliar environments,” Cashdan said. “That is the hypothesized link.”

FOX 13 News' Nineveh Dinha spoke with Utahns about the study, see the video above for their take on the issue.

MORE: Click here to see the study from the University of Utah