Skip to main content
Log in

The Hunter-Gatherer Theory of Sex Differences in Spatial Abilities: Data from 40 Countries

Archives of Sexual Behavior Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

This study used some of the data from the BBC Internet study to assess the universality of sex related spatial competencies, as these are described in the terms of Silverman and Eals’ (1992) hunter-gatherer theory of human spatial sex differences. As predicted, men scored significantly higher than women on a test of three-dimensional mental rotations in all seven ethnic groups and 40 countries used. Close to prediction, women scored significantly higher than men on a test of object location memory in all seven ethnic groups and 35 of the 40 countries. The data were discussed in terms of their implications for research approaches in this area and a paradigm for future studies was proposed, based on the interaction of innate and environmental factors in the ontogenetic development of spatial sex differences.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. No data were given for United Arab Emirates.

References

  • Alcock, J. A. (1984). Animal behavior: An evolutionary approach (3rd ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barrett, R. J., & Ray, O. S. (1970). Behavior in the open field, Lashley III maze, shuttle box and Sidman avoidance as a function of strain, sex, and age. Developmental Psychology, 3, 73–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berry, J. W. (1966). Temme and Eskimo perceptual skills. International Journal of Psychology, 1, 207–229.

    Google Scholar 

  • Binnie-Dawson, J. L. M., & Cheung, Y. M. (1982). The effects of different types of neonatal feminization and environmental stimulation on changes in sex associated activity/spatial learning skills. Biological Psychology, 15, 109–140.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Burg, A. (1968). Lateral visual field as related to age and sex. Journal of Applied Psychology, 52, 10–15.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Choi, J., & Silverman, I. (1996). Sexual dimorphism in spatial behaviors: Applications to route learning. Evolution & Cognition, 2, 165–171.

    Google Scholar 

  • Choi, J., & Silverman, I. (2003). Processes underlying sex differences in route-learning strategies in children and adolescents. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 1153–1166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dabbs, J. M., Chang, E. L., Strong, R. A., & Milun, R. (1998). Spatial ability, navigation strategy, and geographic knowledge among men and women. Evolution and Human Behavior, 19, 89–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eals, M., & Silverman, I. (1994). The hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences: Proximate factors mediating the female advantage in recall of object arrays. Ethology and Sociobiology, 15, 95–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ecuyer-Dab, I., & Robert, M. (2004a). Have sex differences in spatial ability evolved from male competition for mating and female concern for survival? Cognition, 91, 221–257.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ecuyer-Dab, I., & Robert, M. (2004b). Spatial ability and home-range size: Examining the relationship in Western men and women (Homo sapiens). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 118, 217–231.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Galea, L. A. M., & Kimura, D. (1993). Sex differences in route-learning. Personality and Individual Differences, 14, 53–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gaulin, S. J. C., & Fitzgerald, R. W. (1986). Sex differences in spatial ability: An evolutionary hypothesis and test. The American Naturalist, 127, 74–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gaulin, S. J. C., & Hoffman, H. A. (1988). Evolution and development of sex differences in spatial ability. In L. Betzig, M. B. Mulder, & P. Turke (Eds.), Human reproductive behavior: A Darwinian perspective (pp. 129–152). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gaulin, S. J. C., Silverman, I., Phillips, K., & Reiber, C. (1997). Activational hormone influences on abilities and attitudes: Implications for evolutionary theory. Evolution and Cognition, 3, 191–199.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gur, R. C., Alsop, D., Giahn, D., Petty, R., Swanson, C. L., Maldjian, J. A., et al. (2000). An fMRI study of sex differences in regional activation to as verbal and a spatial task. Brain and Language, 74, 157–170.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jahoda, G. (1980). Sex and ethnic differences on a spatial-perceptual task: Some hypotheses tested. British Journal of Psychology, 71, 425–431.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • James, T. W., & Kimura, D. (1997). Sex differences in remembering the locations of objects in an array: Location-shift versus location-exchanges. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18, 155–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jardin, R., & Martin, N. G. (1983). Spatial ability and throwing accuracy. Behavior Genetics, 13, 331–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jordan, K., Wüstenberg, T., Heinze, H.-J., Peters, M., & Jäncke, L. (2002). Women and men exhibit different cortical activation patterns during mental rotation tasks. Neuropsychologia, 40, 2397–2408.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Joseph, R., Hess, S., & Birecree, E. (1978). Effects of hormone manipulation and exploration on sex differences in maze learning. Behavioral Biology, 24, 364–377.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Joshi, M. S., MacLean, M., & Carter, W. (1999). Children’s journey to school: Spatial skills, knowledge and perceptions of the environment. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 17, 125–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kimura, D. (1999). Sex and cognition. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kolakowski, D., & Malina, R. M. (1974). Spatial ability, throwing accuracy and man’s hunting heritage. Nature, 251, 410–412.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lawton, C. A. (1994). Gender differences in way-finding strategies: Relationship to spatial ability and spatial anxiety. Sex Roles, 30, 765–779.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lawton, C. A. (1996). Strategies for indoor wayfinding: The role of orientation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16, 137–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lawton, C. A., & Kallai, J. (2002). Gender differences in wayfinding strategies and anxiety about wayfinding: A cross-cultural comparison. Sex Roles, 47, 389–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Levine, S. C., Vasilyeva, M., Lourenco, S. F., Newcombe, N. S., & Huttenlocher, J. (2005). Socioeconomic status modifies the sex difference in spatial skill. Psychological Science, 16, 841–845.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lynn, R. (1992). Sex differences on the differential aptitude test in British and American adolescents. Educational Psychology, 12, 101–106.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mann, V. A., Sasanuma, S., Sakuma, N., & Masaki, S. (1990). Sex differences in cognitive abilities: A cross-cultural perspective. Neuropsychologia, 28, 1063–1077.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • McBurney, D. H., Gaulin, S. J. C., Devineni, T., & Adams, C. (1997). Superior spatial memory of women: Stronger evidence for the gathering hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18, 165–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McGivern, R. F., Huston, J. P., Byrd, D., King, T., Siegle, G. J., & Reilly, J. (1997). Sex related differences in attention in adults and children. Brain and Cognition, 34, 323–336.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Moffat, S. D., Hampson, E., & Hatzipantelis, M. (1998). Navigation in a “virtual” maze: Sex differences and correlation with psychometric measures of spatial ability in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 19, 73–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muller, R. U., Bostock, E. M., Taube, J. S., & Kubie, J. L. (1994). On the directional firing properties of hippocampal place cells. Journal of Neuroscience, 4, 7235–7251.

    Google Scholar 

  • Munroe, R. L., & Munroe, R. H. (1971). Effect of environmental experience on spatial ability in an East African society. Journal of Social Psychology, 83, 15–22.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Nerlove, S. B., Munroe, R. H., & Munroe, R. L. (1971). Effects of environmental experience on spatial ability: A replication. Journal of Social Psychology, 84, 3–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O’Keefe, J., & Nadel, L. (1978). The hippocampus as a cognitive map. Oxford: Clarendon.

  • Packard, M. G. (1998). Posttraining estrogen and memory modulation. Hormones and Behavior, 34, 126–139.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Peters, M., Laeng, B., Latham, K., Jackson, M., Zaiyouna, R., & Richardson, C. (1995). A redrawn Vandenberg and Kuse mental rotations test: Different versions and factors that affect performance. Brain and Cognition, 28, 39–58.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pizzamiglio, L., Guariglia, C., & Cosentino, T. (1998). Evidence for separate allocentric and egocentric space processing in neglect patients. Cortex, 34, 719–730.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Porteus, S. D. (1965). Porteus maze test: Fifty years’ application. Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reimers, S. (2007). The BBC Internet study: General methodology. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36. DOI 10.1007/s10508-006-9143-2.

  • Saucier, D. M., Green, S. M., Leason, J., MacFadden, A., Bell. S., & Elias, L. J. (2002). Are sex differences in navigation caused by sexually dimorphic strategies or by differences in the ability to use the strategies? Behavioral Neuroscience, 116, 403–410.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Schmitz, S. (1997). Gender-related strategies in environmental development: Effects of anxiety on wayfinding in and representation of a three-dimensional maze. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 17, 215–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shepard, R. N., & Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimen-sional objects. Science, 171, 701–703.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Silverman, I., & Choi, J. (2005). Locating places. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The evolutionary psychology handbook (pp. 177–199). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Silverman, I., Choi, J., MacKewn, A., Fisher, M., Moro, J., & Ols-hansky, E. (2000). Evolved mechanisms underlying wayfinding: Further studies on the hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences. Evolution and Human Behavior, 21, 201–213.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Silverman, I., & Eals, M. (1992). Sex differences in spatial abilities: Evolutionary theory and data. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 531–549). New York: Oxford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Silverman, I., & Phillips, K. (1998). The evolutionary psychology of spatial sex differences. In C. Crawford & D. L. Krebs (Eds.), Handbook of evolutionary psychology: Ideas, issues and applications (pp. 595–611). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Silverman, I., Phillips, K., & Silverman, L. K. (1996). Homogeneity of effect sizes for sex across spatial tests and cultures: Implications for hormonal theories. Brain and Cognition, 31, 90–94.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Taube, J. S. (1995). Head direction cells recorded in the anterior thalamic nuclei in freely moving rats. Journal of Neuroscience, 15, 70–86.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Taube, J. S. (1998). Head directional cells and the neurophysiological basis for a sense of direction. Progress in Neurobiology, 3, 225–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taube, J. S., Muller, R. U., & Ranck, J. B. (1990). Head direction cells recorded from the postsubiculum in freely moving rats: Description and qualitative analysis. Journal of Neuroscience, 10, 420–435.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Total GNI 2004, Atlas method. Retrieved February 13, 2006, from the World Development Indicators database, World Bank Web site: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/DATASTATISTICS/0,contentMDK:20399244∼menuPK:1192694∼pagePK:64133150∼piPK:64133175∼theSitePK:239419,00.html

  • Vandenberg, S. G., & Kuse, A. R. (1978). Mental rotations: A group test of three-dimensional spatial visualization. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 47, 599–604.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250–270.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Watson, N. V., & Kimura, D. (1991). Nontrivial sex differences in throwing and intercepting: Relation to psychometrically-defined spatial functions. Personality and Individual Differences, 12, 375–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, C. L., Barnett, A. M., & Meck, W. H. (1990). Organizational effects of early gonadal secretions on sexual differentiation of spatial memory. Behavioral Neuroscience, 104, 84–97.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, C. L., & Meck, W. H. (1991). The organizational effects of gonadal steroids on sexually dimorphic spatial ability. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 16, 155–176.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Irwin Silverman.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Silverman, I., Choi, J. & Peters, M. The Hunter-Gatherer Theory of Sex Differences in Spatial Abilities: Data from 40 Countries. Arch Sex Behav 36, 261–268 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9168-6

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9168-6

Keywords

Navigation