It’s no secret that men don’t like to ask for directions, and apparently, they don’t necessarily need to.
A recent study conducted by the University of Utah suggests men are generally better with directions than women, because men evolved with better spatial skills to roam further to find mates.
The anthropology researchers tested and interviewed dozens of members of the Twe and Tjimba tribes in northwest Namibia and found that men who did better on spatial tasks had children with more women, according to the study.
“It’s the first time anybody has tried to draw a line between spatial ability, navigation, range size and reproductive success,” said postdoctoral researcher Layne Vashro.
Because the tribes have an open sexual culture, it isn’t unusual for men to mate with more than one woman, according to the study.
Mating pressure even favors navigation skills, Vashro said.
“Navigation ability facilitates traveling longer distances and exploring new environments,” Vashro said. “And the farther you travel, the more likely you are to encounter new mating opportunities.”
Vashro said men are astute in both spatial and navigation ability, most likely because they historically have more experience in traveling further distances.
The study’s senior author and anthropology professor Elizabeth Cashdan defines spatial skills as “being able to visualize spatial relationships and manipulate that image in your mind.”
One of the spatial skills used as an example in the study was to visualize fitting a bunch of things into the back of a truck then imagine rotating them to most effectively fit.
“The argument in the literature is that you need good spatial ability to navigate successfully, and you need to navigate effectively to travel long distances in unfamiliar environments,” Cashdan said.
The Twe and Tjimba tribes travel more than 120 miles of a natural environment on foot each year, and men travel farther and wider than women do, Vashro said in the study.
“Men reported visiting 3.4 unique locations across 30 miles per location on average in a year, while women reported visiting only two locations across 20 miles,” Vashro said.
One of the tests the researchers gave to tribe members was asking the men and women to point to locations in their region ranging from 8 to 80 miles away.
After testing their accuracy with a GPS, Vashro found men were significantly more accurate.