Men do better than women at most tests of spatial awareness, but not all. A new study set in a farmer’s market shows that women outperform men at remembering the locations of food, particularly the most calorific ones.
When men and women do the grocery run, their evolutionary histories play out among the aisles of food in subtle ways. Women are more likely to remember where things are; men are better at plotting efficient paths through the smorgasbord of choice. These different abilities are the result of evolutionary adaptations that took place when we were still hunting and gathering.
The evolution of sex differences
The brains of men and women are clearly different, and rarely more so than in the realms of spatial awareness. In most tests of spatial ability, men routinely outperform women. But to Irvin Silverman and Marion Eals, this crude assertion crumbled under an evolutionary spotlight.
In 1992, the duo noted that our mental abilities were not created from a vacuum – they evolved to allow us to cope with different adaptive challenges. And for the men and women of our dim evolutionary past, these challenges were very different.
Back in the day, when we were still living as hunter-gatherers, men did most of the hunting while women excelled at gathering. And these jobs required very different spatial skills. Hunters, for example, needed to chase their prey over unfamiliar and winding routes; once they had killed, they needed to work out the quickest route home.