Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where am I? Am I lost? Gender Differences in Spatial Relationship Skills

Men are better at spatial relationships than women. Not all and always but in general. I believe it. A decade ago when I was visiting my friend Janet, I went for a run on my own while she was gone. We had a plan. When she came home from work, I'd be ready to leave, she would take me to the airport. Unfortunately, I became lost on the run, arrived back at her house too late, sweaty and frustrated — to find Janet already home, worried, and labeling me "directionally challenged." She was right.

I am still no star. But I realized then I needed to get a grip on this problem! It wasn't a memory problem. It was an attention problem.  Strategic allocation of attention to the rescue.  I started to make choices about focusing in different ways when I walked, when I drove, or when I ran — particularly when I was alone. Did I go L,R, L, R? Was I moving in a square, or a  circle? What was a milestone marker at every turn? In unfamiliar territory, I didn't listen to the radio, think about solving relationship problems, plan dinner, consider a trip to Ireland. I spent my attention on the moment — the immediate past, and the immediate future.

It only works when I make a conscious choice. When I'm with someone who knows where they're going, I make a choice to focus my attention instead on our conversation. You'll see why I found the following article about training for spatial relationship skill improvement interesting. I also like the article because it's solidly researched. Here's the link.

Where am I? Am I lost? Gender Differences in Spatial Relationship SkillsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

1 comment:

  1. Hi there - I've always been "directionally-challenged", and before I went to live in the UK, I really couldn't navigate my way out of a paper bag.

    Living in London forced me to develop a modicum of map-reading skills, though (although I still have to physically turn the map in my hands to reflect my own orientation - my brain just refuses to hold the image intact if I try to rotate it mentallY), and I've managed to maintain those since returning home to New Zealand.

    What I find now is that if I *know* I'm going to need to navigate somewhere, I can do. It's hard, and I do it slowly, with frequent stops to check the map and make sure I'm still where I should be on the route I planned out in advance. And at least part of my navigation is being done verbally, rather than visuo-spatially (for example, I'm thinking in words "OK, so I go along x-street for 3 intersections, then turn right into y-street. Then when I pass the second roundabout, I should see z-street on my left" while I'm driving). My mind literally can't hold a visual representation of where I want to go - I *have* to translate it into words before my brain will process it.

    I hate being a gender cliche, but I just can't avoid this one.


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