Mate mapping

Let’s state right at the outset that women and men are equal. Having got that sine qua non out of the way, we should also acknowledge that women and men are as different as chalk and cheese or even keyboards and camembert. Part of that inescapable difference is that women do some things better than men and men do some things better than women. This is the kind of talk that might not make you many friends around the dinner table but it goes down a treat at anthropology and psychology conferences. Psychologists for instance will happily agree that men have better spatial and navigational abilities than women, and that this sex difference also occurs in species other than humans. Now, researchers from the University of Utah believe they may know why such a sex difference may have evolved.

The spur for this study was the agreement among anthropologists that men generally travel further in hunter-gatherer societies than do women. The difference in travel has been assumed to be behind the evolution of greater spatial and navigational skills in men. These researchers though wanted to investigate further.

To do this, they studied members of two hunter-gatherer tribes in north-west Namibia; the Twe (pronounced “tway”) and the Tjimba (pronounced “chim-bah”). They were chosen because they live in a mountainous area and have to travel around 120 kilometres a year due to a distinct wet season. The tribes were also useful because it is accepted in the tribal culture to have affairs with people they are not married to. This would allow the researchers to study if mating was correlated with how far a man ranged.

As part of their study, the researchers gave men and women from the two tribes tests of their spatial ability and found that men did score better than women on those tests. They also interviewed the people as to how far they travelled and where they went in the course of a year. Again, they found as expected that men travelled further than women and to more places.

The really interesting finding, though, was that men who did best on the spatial ability test reported travelling further than men who did less well. There was no difference in how far women travelled according to their spatial ability. It also emerged that men who travelled further had more children with more women than men who travelled less far.

The inference then is that men developed navigational skills to help them travel far and have more children… It seems there really is no lengths a man won’t go to for a bit of female company.

Ladies, the moral of that story for you is that if your partner doesn’t have a moral compass then you better hide his directional one, and don’t encourage orienteering.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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