Navigation, Spatial Reasoning, Gender and Homosexuality

Behavioural psychologists are using navigating techniques as a means of testing whether gay men and women show “cross-sex shifts” in some of their cognitive abilities — i.e., whether gay men think more like straight women and lesbians like straight men.

The hypothesis is that homosexual people shift in the direction of the opposite sex in other aspects of their psychology other than sexual preference. That is, gay men may take on aspects of female psychology, and lesbians acquire aspects of male psychology.

The study takes as given that men and women, on average, navigate differently: women tend to use landmarks; men tend to use compass points. Anecdotally we know there are exceptions to this rule (and in my personal experience it’s not necessarily all one or the other). But if you take as given that spatial reasoning is gendered, then the old stereotype that women are terrible at directions is a result of maps that reflect male-oriented spatial reasoning: i.e., directions and street names (e.g., “go east on Maple Street”) rather than landmarks (e.g., “turn right at the Wendy’s”).

Anyway. The researchers concluded that gay men adopt both male and female navigational strategies, while lesbians’ spatial reasoning is similar to that of straight women.

Gay men employ the same strategies for navigating as women — using landmarks to find their way around… . But they also use the strategies typically used by straight men, such as using compass directions and distances. In contrast, gay women read maps just like straight women, reveals the study of 80 heterosexual and homosexual men and women.

This is bound to be controversial, or at the very least grist for a good debate. There’s already a lively discussion about this on the Map Lovers Tribe, where I found this.