[Paleopsych] Eureka: Study explains spatial orientation differences between sexes

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Study explains spatial orientation differences between sexes
    Contact: Luc Tremblay
    [2]luc.tremblay at utoronto.ca
    [3]University of Toronto

          Study explains spatial orientation differences between sexes

Inner ear size may be determinant

    A University of Toronto researcher has found that differences between
    men and women in determining spatial orientation may be the result of
    inner ear size.

    The study, published online in the journal Perception, examined
    whether differences in how men and women judge how we orient ourselves
    in our environment could be attributed to physiological or
    psychological causes. It found that giving the participants verbal
    instructions on how to determine their spatial orientation did not
    eliminate the differences between the sexes.

    "Since the instructions didn't remove the difference between how men
    and women judge spatial orientation, we believe it is likely a result
    of physiological differences," says Luc Tremblay, a professor in U of
    T's Faculty of Physical Education and Health. For example, says
    Tremblay, the otoliths structures found in the inner ear which are
    sensitive to inertial forces such as gravity tend to be larger in men
    than in women, and may allow males to adjust themselves more
    accurately than females in some environments.

    In the study, Tremblay asked 24 people (11 males and 13 females) to
    point a laser straight-ahead (perpendicular to the body orientation)
    while upright and when tilted 45 degrees backward. To test whether
    cognitive processes affected spatial orientation, participants who
    were tested in the dark were told to focus on external or internal
    cues to help them orient the laser. He found that although
    instructions to pay attention to internal cues helped women to point
    the laser significantly closer to their straight-ahead, there were
    still significant differences between the sexes, with women tending to
    look more towards their feet.

    However, although women are more likely than males to misjudge what is
    horizontal when performing tasks in sensory-deprived or biased
    environments, they may have an advantage over men while performing
    tasks under other sensory conditions, such as driving a car or
    piloting a plane, says Tremblay.

    This could mean that women are better than males in avoiding the
    worst-case scenario in spatial orientation, as women act more
    cautiously due to the way they interpret the sensory input, while men
    tend to take risks. An example, says Tremblay, is piloting a plane in
    a situation where visual cues have been lost. "Because women tend to
    judge their horizontal a few degrees below what it actually is, they
    tend to pull up to compensate, thus directing the plane away from the

    Tremblay says his finding has good potential for practical
    applications such as designing gender-specific training for extreme
    situations such as piloting and space flight. "It's important to
    identify how men and women differ with respect to complex
    perceptual-motor behaviour in order to design recreational,
    rehabilitation and work environments that ensure safety and top


    This study was published online on March 19, 2004. The research was
    supported by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering
    Research Council of Canada, a Canada Research Chair awarded to Digby
    Elliott, one of the paper's co-authors, and a scholarship from Les
    Fonds pour la Formation des Chercheurs et l'Aide à la Recherche du
    Québec awarded to Tremblay.

    Luc Tremblay
    Assistant Professor
    U of T Faculty of Physical Education and Health
    [4]luc.tremblay at utoronto.ca

    Lanna Crucefix
    Public Relations Manager
    U of T Faculty of Physical Education and Health
    [5]lanna.crucefix at utoronto.ca


    2. mailto:luc.tremblay at utoronto.ca
    3. http://www.utoronto.ca/

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