A study carried out by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that men have better spatial recognition and have a more effective strategy with regard to using this skill to reach their destinations more quickly in a virtual environment due largely to the higher levels of testosterone hormone.
What does this finding mean? It simply means that Dr. Carl W.S. Pintzka’s team of researchers proved that there really is a connection between hormone levels and navigation skills because they found that men used their hippocampus more during way finding tasks, unlike women whose brains were wired to use the frontal cortex. In simple terms: while men excel at finding their way through a virtual maze by processing three-dimensional information to find shortcuts, women were more observant of local surroundings and preferred established routes, regardless of distance.
“In simple terms, women are faster at finding things in the house, and men are faster at finding the house,” Dr. Pintzka said.
The team also discovered that, after being administered a drop of testosterone hormone under their tongues, women’s hippocampus lit up more than the frontal cortex, signifying that the testosterone caused the women to employ the navigational strategy of males. In other words, the women who were dosed with testosterone were found to have improved knowledge of the layout since their hippocampus was more involved in spatial navigation.
None of the female participants who took part in the study was pregnant nor did any have experience with first person computer games. The participants were all right-handed women from age 19 to 30 who used oral contraceptives, a requirement the team needed in order to remove the women from contraceptives at the same time and have them in the same phase of their menstrual cycle wherein women have the lowest estradiol levels for the testosterone dose to be more effective.
You can check out the full study and view diagrams as well as screen captures of the virtual environment used in the journal [pdf] Behavioural Brain Research, published online on Nov. 2, 2015.
In case you were wondering what the study is for, medical science noted that women are more prone to being afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and experts found that the sense of direction is the first to go. “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. The study was carried out in hopes of discovering how the disease develops and to find ways to deal with the disease.