Female Perception: Young, female, disoriented

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Female Perception: Young, female, disoriented
Female Perception: Young, female, disoriented

Young, Female, Disoriented

"There's a bench on the corner, the tree in front of it is blooming right now, and if you turn right there, there's a great fashion store coming soon." Who wrote this itinerary? Correct: From a type specimen "Frau". From a "typical" man one heard rather "turn right at the Feldmann crossing into Alfred-Wagner-Strasse, 200 meters further on there is a one-way street on the left". Are men really scientifically based better navigators? Or is everything just a cliché again?


What do human, rat, deer, meadowmill and other mouse males have in common? They beat their females when solving spatial tasks. With human men, this applies to a whole range of tricky problems: They are better at drawing maps, describing paths, walking through a computer-generated labyrinth and finding their way around in real and virtual space. No Chauvi gibberish, but experimentally proven. (Don't forget, dear women: As always, exceptions prove the rule - of course you can provide polished location information and find the most direct route to your destination even without navigation support. Or man.)

The explanations are just as diverse as the experiments. At the moment, the so-called territory size hypothesis [1] enjoys the clearest support in the scientific world. According to this, many male mammals - including human ones - simply use a larger space to roam around, so they can orientate themselves better. Or vice versa: because they can orientate themselves better, they roam through larger spaces. Because the question is, why did this difference, which is examined and documented in so many ways, arise at all?

Natural selection is of course very popular. But it is not the only possible explanation. There are two more that should be mentioned: It is simply not very practical for women who are capable of reproduction, if not completely inappropriate, to be able to orientate themselves well – this increases the risk that they will stray too far from their offspring, which is still very intensively cared for. Mom is better off staying at home, hence this female fertility hypothesis [2]. The female feed procurement hypothesis [3], on the other hand, pursues a different idea: Human females may not be so great on a large scale - on a small scale, nuts are unbeatable. When it comes to discovering changes in collections of objects, women are great. Seriously - who is more likely to notice that the shelves in the supermarket have been rearranged? There you go.

And because there is already so much on the subject, but the unsatisfactorily probing question still remains as to whether everything has really already been taken into account, Catherine Jones and Susan Healy from the University of Edinburgh have gotten to work, preferably conduct a series of tests with female human guinea pigs. And so that they don't accidentally repeat something, they looked to the birds for their experimental instructions. To be more precise, they modified an experiment used to check whether birdies hiding food are more likely to remember the location of an object or a property – for example a color. FYI: Birds prefer positional skills.

Now males and females should unconsciously reveal on the screen whether they are more oriented towards external or local things. If, after a selection of colorfully distributed squares, they choose one that had not been seen before, both performed equally well. But if, after a collection of white squares, it was a question of fishing out the one that lit up in a previously unoccupied position from a pair that was then presented, the women had to admit defeat: the men were only just as good at this as in the task before, but they trumped thus the ladies by far [4]. Unusual. So why does a man ask more often where he can find his favorite chocolate in the store? Womanly distorted perception?

Or attention deficit? At least that's what Jones and Healy are discussing, given the results of the next experiment. This time they presented the volunteers with colorful pictures, but now in a clearly visible grid – first a collection, then a break again, then the couple. The participants were then asked to name the square that was new in terms of both motif and position. Unfortunately, this condition was not met in every fifth case: Then a new object appeared in the old position or vice versa. While the men just happened to cling to either the new look or the new location, the women clicked more often than average – wrong. They did not recognize the new position as new, or to put it another way: their local memory simply deserved the grade poor.

It could therefore be the case, Jones and Healy speculate, that women memorize object properties more easily and therefore pay more attention to them than men, who pay equal attention to both properties. This imbalance would be expressed in the fact that men do equally well whether they have to remember external or spatial information. Women, on the other hand, rely more on the visual – and are therefore lost in the three-dimensional. But then why weren't they better than their male counterparts in this experiment when it came to classification by appearance? Didn't they understand the briefing correctly? At least that's what the researchers think is unlikely.

And provide an otherwise extremely popular attempt at an explanation: the hormones are to blame. If the female fertility hypothesis is correct - poorer orientation, so that expectant or current mum stays at home to look after her - then one should not be surprised if the students in the prime of childbearing age show such poor performance. It is therefore time to repeat these experiments - with women across the menstrual cycle and a wide cross-section of ages. However, as is well known, the researchers should bear one thing in mind: if a woman takes the pill, it messes everything up. So please ask your circle of acquaintances whether this has any effect on women's orientation skills in the supermarket?

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