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Males' superior spatial ability likely is not an evolutionary adaptation
Date:2/19/2013

Males and females differ in a lot of traits (besides the obvious ones) and some evolutionary psychologists have proposed hypotheses to explain why. Some argue, for example, that males' slight, but significant, superiority in spatial navigation over females a phenomenon demonstrated repeatedly in many species, including humans is probably "adaptive," meaning that over the course of evolutionary history the trait gave males an advantage that led them to have more offspring than their peers.

A new analysis published in The Quarterly Review of Biology found no support for this hypothesis. The researchers, led by University of Illinois psychology professor Justin Rhodes, looked at 35 studies that included data about the territorial ranges and spatial abilities of 11 species of animals: cuttlefish, deer mice, horses, humans, laboratory mice, meadow voles, pine voles, prairie voles, rats, rhesus macaques and talastuco-tucos (a type of burrowing rodent). Rhodes and his colleagues found that in eight out of 11 species, males demonstrated moderately superior spatial skills to their female counterparts, regardless of the size of their territories or the extent to which males ranged farther than females of the same species. (Watch a video about the research.)

The findings lend support to an often-overlooked hypothesis, Rhodes said. The average superiority of males over females in spatial navigation may just be a "side effect" of testosterone, he said. (Previous studies have shown that women who take testosterone tend to see an improvement in their spatial navigation skills, he said.)

The analysis adds a new dimension to an ongoing debate about the evolutionary significance of some baffling human traits. Rhodes and his colleagues object
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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