Sex Roles

, Volume 67, Issue 11–12, pp 682–695 | Cite as

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

  • Harriet E. S. RosenthalEmail author
  • Liam Norman
  • Shamus P. Smith
  • Anthony McGregor
Original Article


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 



The authors would like thank the Nuffield Foundation for the award of an Undergraduate Research Bursary (Grant Ref: URB/35697) that partly supported this research, and Yutaka Kosaki for comments on a previous version.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harriet E. S. Rosenthal
    • 1
    Email author
  • Liam Norman
    • 1
  • Shamus P. Smith
    • 2
  • Anthony McGregor
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  2. 2.School of Engineering and Computing SciencesDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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