Why Women Can't Read Maps: a Theory of Evolution

Research headed by UC Irvine science superstar Francisco Ayala that found the brains of the two sexes react differently to beauty also may help explain why women can't read maps and men can't see what's right under their noses.

Ayala -- the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology in the School of Biological Sciences, a professor of philosophy in the School of Humanities, a professor of logic and the philosophy of science in the School of Social Sciences, a 2001 National Medal Of Science winner and member of the National Academy of Sciences -- joined scientists from his native Spain showed 10 men and 10 women paintings and photos of urban scenes and landscapes, asking them to rate each scene as either "beautiful" or "not beautiful."

Simultaneously, the scientists looked at images of the magnetic fields produced by electrical currents in the brains of the test subjects. When a woman admired a "beautiful" picture, neurons on both sides of her brain were stimulated, but only the right side of a man's brain activated. Reporting their findings to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists wrote, "The differences between the decorative objects found in Neanderthal and modern human sites support that idea of a 'modern brain' capable of appreciating beauty and its uses in different ways."
Because the left side of the brain deals with closer-range objects while the right is better at coordinates, the research indicates, "women tend to be more aware than men of objects around them, including those that seem irrelevant to the current task, whereas men outperform women in navigation. Men tend to solve navigation tasks by using orientation-based strategies involving distance concepts and cardinal directions, whereas women tend to base their activities on remembering the location of landmarks and relative directions, such as 'left from', or 'to the right of.'"

The eggheads believe these differences are related to each sex's specific roles in evolution. Men had to hunt and stalk their prey, so became skilled at navigation, while women foraged for food and became good at spotting fruit and nuts close by.


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