Research has shown that men tend to have better navigational skills than women, but a new study shows it may be due to a different reason than some people may think.
Men may be better at directions because of how they are raised, not because of any evolutionary advantage, according to the study, led by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Published Wednesday in the Royal Society Open Science journal, the study concluded that as kids, boys may have different experiences and opportunities that build navigational skills, such as being encouraged to play outside more than girls, making them better at mapping their surroundings.
"Sex differences in behaviour or performance can arise from biological or cultural processes that have little to do with evolution," the study's researchers wrote.
The researchers used a meta-analysis of previous studies to compare the navigational skills of males and females across 21 species, including humans.
In the studies they analyzed, humans were tested by how they navigated through a real city using either a map or verbal instructions.
According to the study, the analysis showed that there was no statistically significant correlation between a person's sex, their home-range size - that is, the area in which a person typically travels on a given day - and their spatial navigation skills. Researchers say this finding helps disprove the hypothesis that differences in navigational skills between men and women are due to sex differences.
Researchers further say the findings add to evidence that debunks the notion that the reason men appear to be better than women at navigational and spatial skills is due to evolutionary adaption. Instead, the study's findings appear to show that women and men have the same potential for navigational skills.
"Recent evidence in subsistence populations strongly suggests that sex difference in spatial navigation in humans is not a cultural universal," the study's authors wrote. "Rather, it disappears in cultures where males and females have similar ranging behavior."
As a result of their findings, the researchers concluded, "We believe that future research on human sex differences in navigation should focus on the role of socialization and culture, rather than evolutionary genetic factors."
Dr. Jade A Cobern, M.D., M.P.H., board-certified pediatrician specialized in preventive medicine, is a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.