Original Article

Sex Roles

, Volume 67, Issue 11, pp 682-695

First online:

Gender-Based Navigation Stereotype Improves Men’s Search for a Hidden Goal

  • Harriet E. S. RosenthalAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Durham University Email author 
  • , Liam NormanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Durham University
  • , Shamus P. SmithAffiliated withSchool of Engineering and Computing Sciences, Durham University
  • , Anthony McGregorAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Durham University

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While a general stereotype exists that men are better at navigating than women, experimental evidence indicates that men and women differ in their use of spatial strategies, and this preference determines gender-differences. When both environmental geometry and landmark cues are available, men appear to learn to navigate using both types of cues, while women show a preference for using landmarks. Using a computer-generated task, 80 undergraduate students from North-East England learned to navigate to a hidden goal. Activating the general navigation stereotype improved the performance of men, compared to the control condition, both when only geometric cues and only landmark cues were present (stereotype lift), suggesting that activating a general stereotype can affect tasks both with (geometry) and without (landmark) established gender-differences in preference. In addition, in the test trial (hidden goal removed) women who learned to navigate using only landmarks spent longer in the correct location of the hidden goal than those who learned to navigate using only geometry. In contrast, the opposite result was found for men, suggesting that when only one cue-type is available, gender-differences still occur, with women better able to navigate using landmarks than geometry, while men seemed to learn more about the location of the goal with reference to geometric than landmark cues.


Learning Navigation Gender differences Stereotypes Stereotype lift