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You Drive Like a Woman

Timothy Kincaid

January 3rd, 2008

qazi_rahman.jpg
Dr Qazi Rahman is a leader in the study of sexual orientation and one of the authors of Born Gay?: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation.

Dr. Rahman has released the results of a new study that lends further support to the assertion that the brains of gay men operate differently than those of straight men.

Gay men are as bad as women at navigating research has shown.

Both share the same poor sense of direction and rely on local landmarks to get around, a study suggests.

They are also slower to take in spatial information than heterosexual men.

These tests did not find unequivocal mirroring of female spacial processing in gay men. In some tests they performed similarly to heterosexual men and not like women. Lesbians tended to perform without observable difference from heterosexual women. However, the responses in some parts of the test showed that gay men and straight men unquestionably process spacial information differently.

“Not only did straight men get started on the MWM test more quickly than gay men and the two female groups, they also maintained that advantage throughout the test,” said Dr Rahman.

“This might mean that sexual orientation affects the speed at which you acquire spatial information, but not necessarily your eventual memory for that spatial information.”

So we can toss another study on the growing pile of evidence that sexual orientation has some connection to biology. It’s hard to fathom how spatial information processing can be an acquired trait through any psychosocial conditioning or how anyone could make the claim, “Fathers, hug your son or he will drive using landmarks rather than an innate sense of which way is North”.

P.S. It should be noted that while women may not reach an unknown destination as quickly as men, they are in far fewer automobile accidents.

Comments

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Jason
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

I drove a van for a year as part of being in a children’s theatre roadshow. The straight man and woman with me didn’t understand how I could not have a sense of direction. I just don’t. I have to use the sun or street signs. I thought perhaps my being left handed meant I switched all my directions. That does happen sometimes, I often think it’s west when it’s actually east, or I say “north” when I’m actually pointing south.

When I moved to Chicago, I had to buy a compass, because I just don’t know which way is which without the sun or street signs. Navigating at night was hard. We have a few diagonal streets which make it even more confusing at times.

Lake Michigan is on the east side of the city. I loved how when I moved here people would say “go east” and I would say “which way is east?” and they’d say “toward the lake!” and I would say “Uh, I can’t see the lake from here, which way is the lake?” and they would say “it’s east!!” Apparently people not only can sense directions, but also large bodies of water.

Jim
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

Great! Just what gay men need…more rediculous quack-science to define how they tick.

Fred
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

Just for the record. I’m gay, have a fantastic sense of direction and very proud of it!

Erica B.
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

I’ve got a fantastic sense of direction. My husband’s is pitiful. I therefore always have a hard time taking studies like this seriously, when the starting premise is “girls always get lost and don’t ask for directions”…

Ben in Oakland
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

We need timothy to take a very close look at this study. but yeah, i have to agree that based on this report only, it sounds pretty silly. The assumtpion that girls just don’t know which way they are going, bein’ mostly blonde, ya know, and all, makes it a bit questionable. I also have an excellent sense of direction, I’m a really big queer, and i’m known among my friends as the straightest gay man around.

Paul
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

Like Fred, I’m a gay man with a fantastic sense of direction and can understand maps quickly. I’m even good at giving comprehensible directions to others. That’s in contrast to my (straight) father who isn’t so good with maps and is content to drive with me navigating, which I did a lot while growing up. That makes me wonder about the level of correlation between being gay and good spatial processing. Is it high, or just high enough to say the two tend to go together?

mike/
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

well, if women do not have as good a sense of direction/navigation as men, how do they explain how women ALWAYS end up where they’re supposed to be – even if they admit they are lost?

on a serious note, i have reservations about the research itself. it is a small study. a sampling that includes only 140 people is not very large. there is no “control” group for comparison either.

the larger work in which it is cited is a “review” of research that is trying to establish that orientation is grounded in the idea that people are born with their orientation [with which i entirely agree], but the christianist wing-nuts have already grabbed this one and ran with it.

NARTH already has a “review” of the book attacking it as bunk. if you’re not familiar with NARTH go to their website – http://www.narth.com/ – it’s really very scary and they use pseudo-science better than most legitimate scientists.

Timothy Kincaid
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

OK folks, don’t beat me with a stick…

but this simply confirms existing studies that show that men and women differ in how they process spatial orientation. By this point it’s pretty much accepted. And it is simply further confirmation of previous studies showing that gay men are more like women is spatial rotation tests and object location memorization. I think this was just a new method of testing.

As with all studies that look at sexual orientation, not everything applies to everyone. The closest I’ve seen was the predictive test with the ithmus size of the corpus collasum and how it related to left handedness.

So I’m not surprised that there are exceptions. There always are. And it’s almost ALWAYS me!! Yeah, I too just tend to know which way I’m pointed – even indoors at night.

Sigh.

Timothy Kincaid
January 3rd, 2008 | LINK

mike,

the study discussed above was just released and is not included in Born Gay.

And yes, we’re pretty familiar with NARTH. They’re quite something. A bigger pack of, ummm, peculiar folk would be hard to find.

We spend far too much of our time analyzing their unique view of science.

Jason D
January 4th, 2008 | LINK

tim,
Even though I mentioned above that I have no sense of direction, I can still do puzzles pretty quickly.

I had a roommate in college who had a computer monitor that had to be returned to the store. She was sitting on the floor with the box, monitor, and the stryofoam packing pieces and said, “Are you spatial? I can’t figure out how this all goes back in the box.” I figured it out in about 2 minutes. I’m good with that kind of spatial configuration. I can strategize in that tetris sort of way, but I have no sense of direction. And often my guess is opposite of what it really is — I attribute that, at least partially, to being a left-sided person. I’m left-handed, left-eyed, left-footed, and a liberal (ha!) so the entire world is backwards to me.

CPT_Doom
January 4th, 2008 | LINK

I think it is pitiful the results of this study have been spun by the media as “gay men and women can’t navigate.” The truth is that women and men tend to navigate differently, and this study shows that gay men tend to navigate more like women than straight men do, which is why it is evidence of a biological basis to homosexuality.

Of course this means nothing about the specific abilities of an individual man or woman to navigate, just as the tendency of men to be taller than women tells you nothing about the height of a specific individual.

I travel often for work, and can typically tell when directions are written by a woman or a man. Women’s directions tend to be like “take a right at Main street – you’ll know it because of the Dunkin Donuts across from the car wash at the corner” whereas men’s directions tend to be like “Take route 50 S to route 145 E. 145 is also known as Main street.” Depending on where I am going, sometimes one type of direction works better, sometimes another, depending on the location (e.g., in New England, where streets tend not to be N/S or E/W, women’s directions can be much better). Of course, I now use a Garmin GPS, which takes all the guesswork out of it.

cowboy
January 4th, 2008 | LINK

My Sister can’t read a map if her life depended on it. I usually would read a map and memorize the route. What a revelation when you have to drive in Europe! Thank the good people who gave us a GPS in our rental car and had it programmed to speak directions in English! I would never have had the ability to remember Strausse this or Strobe that … or whatever those long street names! Best damn invention for any driver is the GPS. (Plug for Hertz goes here)

And I give my Sister wide latitude. She can look at a console at an organ and have no problem adapting to the multi-keyboards, ranks and ranks of stops and the pedals! THAT takes smarts! I only have this qwerty keyboard to master so, I’ll forgive her for not being a good co-pilot and a map reader.

AM
January 4th, 2008 | LINK

Curious that gay women are similar to their straight sisters in this arena — as opposed to being as straight men in style and speed of aptitude.

Could it be that the biological basis does tend to lean far more heavily toward gay men than for lesbians? I would have thought that lesbians would be in league with the straight men for processing skills. Or is this over analysis?

William
January 5th, 2008 | LINK

This certainly applies to me: I have a very poor sense of direction, and I do navigate by using landmarks when driving. And although I know perfectly well the difference between right and left, I have to concentrate hard to remember which is which on the spur of the moment if someone stops me in the steet and asks me for directions; otherwise I can find myself saying “turn left” when I mean “turn right”.

But on the other hand, my Dad had the same problems, and he was as straight as they come.

Perhaps Dr Rahman should have kept quiet about this. We already have some soi-disant Christian therapists prescribing abusive treatment for children who don’t conform to gender stereotypes, in order to “prevent” them from growing up gay. If we’re not careful we might find these CAUCs searching for children with “directional cognition deficit”, so that they can be subjected to similar abuse.

Samantha Davis
January 5th, 2008 | LINK

Yeah, I have to say that it applies to me too. I’m trans, but once I tried to go from Cupertino to San Jose and ended up in San Francisco.

Mike/: There was a control group in this study called “straight men.”

And let’s give Rahman credit while it’s due. He’s not saying that women are worse at spacial reasoning at all. In fact, in 2003 he released a study which concluded that women and gay men were much better at remembering the locations of objects.

What this study was about was whether gay men navigate like women or like heterosexual men. What we do know from previous studies is that women tend to rely more on landmarks for navigation where men tend to use methods that are less reliant on surroundings.

From this we can extrapolate that it would take longer for a woman to be able to successfully navigate an previously unknown location than for men owing to the fact that she is more reliant on landmarks (which she doesn’t know yet).

Therefore, if we want to know if gay men navigate using more male or more female typical strategies a good benchmark would be to put them in an unfamiliar location and see how quickly they learn to find their way around.

PS: if anyone is interested, the studies that I have read find that men navigate much more using a distance + direction. For example, where the typical woman would navigate the highway by saying “entered the expressway, passed the statue, passed exit abc (almost there), exit xyz” a typical man would navigate by “entered the expressway, drove 10 minutes at 55mph, exit xyz.”

Neither strategy is the “better strategy” because each one is better depending on the circumstances. The typical man type navigation is much much better in unfamiliar territory where the typical woman navigation is much much better in familiar territory.

Jim Burroway
January 5th, 2008 | LINK

if anyone is interested, the studies that I have read find that men navigate much more using a distance + direction. For example, where the typical woman would navigate the highway by saying “entered the expressway, passed the statue, passed exit abc (almost there), exit xyz” a typical man would navigate by “entered the expressway, drove 10 minutes at 55mph, exit xyz.”

That’s how I navigate. It’s how I learned to get around Washington DC and Cincinnati Ohio, where the hills, forests and trees provided reliable, recognizable landmarks. But when I moved to flat, treeless Dallas where every freeway exit looked just like the other one, I was always missing my exit.

AM
January 6th, 2008 | LINK

Just a thought: if straight guys are so great at navigation how come the proverbial joke exists that a man *will be lost* and yet not stop to ask for directions?!

NancyP
January 6th, 2008 | LINK

How is using the position of the sun not using a landmark? I navigate more by compass than “third gas station from the exit”, but sun-generated compass points are also landmarks.

As Jim notes, landmarks can be useful in towns which are not laid out on rectangular grids, and Cincinnati and WashDC are great examples of irregularly-gridded cities.

Gab.
January 7th, 2008 | LINK

I am (gay and) incapable of “learning” how to navigae in my home city since 10 years ago (as in, I can get lost inside of a few hundred meters from home!), none of my gay friends or my partner is like me, (I thought I was alone!)

When I walk in my city (and is not lost), I know “when I am here, that way takes me towards home, that way is somewhat towards where I am going”.
But the way taken is more often shaped like a “C” than like a straight line!
and if i try to take an unknown “shortcut” it always ends with me LATE (as soon as I am in an unfamiliar place, I lose any bearings/directions to where I am or what directions i should take)….

The interresting thing, is give me a map, and I am very good in finding my way in any unfamiliar city, its just that I simply havent got any kind of “internal map”, my friends always thought I was not telling the truth when I am late walking to them, I printed out this article (and some comments) and they said “it certainly describes you perfectly!”
Its good to have something to show them!

(i dont have any idea “why” i lack orientation capacity, but its great to see I am not alone!)

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