A new study has shown that women and gay men are likely to be the worst drivers on the road, although this depends on your definition of best. Research showed that in navigational and spatial awareness tasks both perform poorly when compared to heterosexual men.

The study was conducted by Queen Mary, University of London, who stated that the findings would mean gay men and women would find driving in a strange environment more difficult than straight male motorists. Both tend to rely on local landmarks to navigate their way around and are slow to absorb spatial information.
140 volunteers participated in the study, which found that gay men, straight women and lesbians all navigate in a similar way, sharing their weaknesses. Earlier studies have also claimed that women are poor navigators. Women are consistently more successful in tests which require the position of objects to be remembered, whereas men perform better in tasks needed navigational skills and the ability to uncover hidden objects.

Dr Qazi Rahman led the research team who used virtual reality simulations of two different spatial learning and memory tests which were originally developed at Yale University. An example is one where volunteers had to swim through an underwater maze to find a hidden platform, and another was exploring radial arms which projected from a central point in order to receive rewards.

Dr Rahman made the observation that: "Men are good at using distal, or geometrical cues, to decide if they’re going north or south, for instance. They have a better basic sense of direction, but they can use local land marks as well.

"Driving in a novel environment which is poor in cues is where these differences are likely to show up most. Women are going to take a lot longer to reach their destination, making more errors, taking wrong turns etc. They need more rich local landmarks."

The divisions in the sexes were not straightforward though, “Gay people appear to show a ‘mosaic’ of performance, parts of which are male-like and other parts of which are female-like," Rahman said. The irony of the matter is that women’s car insurance is cheaper than men’s because men are responsible for more of the serious accidents that occur on roads.

A previous study, conducted by the University of Giessen, Germany in the journal of Intelligence revealed that a lack of testosterone affects spatial awareness. The research examined the spatial, numerical and verbal skills of 40 volunteers, map reading and parking are spatial skills.

An example of the tests administered were choosing which of five drawings could not be rotated to look like the other four. Overall men scored higher than women, Dr Petra, the research leader, said that the differences between the group studied were “remarkable”.

However it has been admitted that the study was limited because no detailed account was taken of women’s menstrual cycle which can affect hormone balance.

A member of the British Psychological Society, Dr Neave, remarked: "The sexes do use different skills to find their way around. Men seem to be able to keep the route in their head without landmarks, whereas women do use them.

"So men may be better at finding the car when it’s parked in a huge shopping centre car-park. It may also tap into driving and parking abilities. Men do seem to be better at spatial abilities, and women at verbal and emotional skills. It may be a generalisation, but that does seem to be the case."

It is also possible that the more skilled drivers may simply be more experienced, practice does after all make perfect.

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