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Spatial Ability Studies on Men and Women Term Paper

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Updated: Dec 29th, 2019


Gathering hypothesis is an evolutionary term that gives details on how people have changed gradually over generations. Tools in earlier times were primarily used for digging and harvesting crops and not for hunting. Later, people acquired complex tools, which they used to hunt, remove skin, and cut things.

According to Mcburney et al. (1997), one of sources of proof in support of the gathering hypothesis is the good spatial memory of women. The scholars argue that women do better in jobs that are associated with recalling unlike their male counterparts who do better in rotation jobs.

The theory of gathering and hunting on sex differences states that women’s knowledge and capability to understand things has gradually changed to suit gathering while men’s capability has evolved to suit hunting (Ecuyer-Dab & Robert, 2007). The differences in sex can be referred to as spatial abilities. However, results on spatial ability studies on men and women are normally conflicting.

For instance, Ecuyer-Dab and Robert (2007) maintain that the degree of spatial ability is practical and that the difference in men and women in specific spatial test is big and strong. Based on their empirical research findings, Piccardi et al., (2008) argues that present findings show that women are good in some specific spatial jobs such as object location than men.

The aim of this paper is to present a literature review on the conflicting findings of how evolutionary theories and social psychology theories explain sex differences in the gathering hypothesis. This aim is achieved by focusing on two main research questions.

Do women truly have better object location skills relative to men? Do women do better in gathering as opposed to hunting that is associated with men? In the effort to provide ample response to these questions, it is hypothesized that women and men have spatial differences, which influence their abilities in participating in hunting and gathering, with neither of the two being suited for both tasks.

Research Methodology

This research paper uses literature review of peer-reviewed journals as the main research methodology. The selection of this research methodology is done in full awareness of the demerits of using secondary materials as sources of data for use in a research process. One of such drawbacks is the incapacity of the data to reflect current trends in a particular area of research.

However, this demerit is addressed sufficiently through a careful selection of articles for review. Indeed, the journal articles chosen are peer reviewed. This means that requisite bodies of knowledge have already evaluated their quality and reliability in the presentation of data about the research in sex differences in the gathering hypothesis. In the context of this research, these bodies are social psychology and evolutionary theorists.

Since the goal of the research is to compare the research findings, it is anticipated that such articles are helpful and reliable in drawing inferences for the research. Proofs or arguments against the hypothesis utilized in this research are also expected to be reliable based on the assumption of the quality and reliability of the peer-reviewed journals.

Literature Review

One of the theoretical hypotheses in the studies of sex differences in the gathering-hunting theory is that women truly have better object location relative to men. Silverman, Choi, and Peters (2007) sort to verify this hypothesis through their empirical study that analyzed of whether sex-related competencies akin to spatial differences are universal.

As they had forecasted in their study hypothesis, their empirical study revealed that males were at the top in comparison to females in three-dimensional assessment based on psychological alternation tasks given to people from 40 nations and from 7 cultural classes of individuals. According to their research findings, women “scored significantly higher than men on a test of object location memory in all 7 ethnic groups in 35 countries” (Silverman, Choi & Peters, 2007, p.261).

These findings confirm the existing body of knowledge that men have advantages in successful performance of hunting-related tasks together with rotational tasks. However, the differences between sexes in terms of spatial abilities are not centrally divided as may be evident from the evolutionary theory for gathering-hunting hypothesis. The difference is explicitly expressed in linear terms where men are positioned on the highest scale in terms of their magnitude of spatial abilities (Piccardi et al., 2008).

Contextualizing these differences in spatial abilities, Joshua, Max, Danielle, and Steven (2007) present their arguments on the evolutionary theory by holding that spatial differences in sex can be explained in explicit terms through consideration of qualitative differences in abilities of different sexes as opposed to quantitative levels of abilities.

The evolutionary theory with regard to the explanations of spatial sex differences is rooted in the Pleistocene era in which divisions of labor had the repercussion of rendering men to function principally in hunting roles while women engaged in roles such as participation in food gathering.

The degree of existence in which the Pleistocene era holds significant representations of the splitting of spatial abilities along sex spatial differences is dependent the empirical finding on the manner in which different abilities are segregated and distributed depending on sex. This case can be explained by consideration of two main sources of evidence on the differences in spatial skills dating back to primitive time of human development history.

Reseachers such as Silverman, Choi, and Peters (2007) have demonstrated that there exists a positive relationship between various scores acquired from spatial test and accuracy of throwing objects (p.265). This skill is paramount when it comes to addressing the issue of the ability to capture a prey. In a different empirical research, McBurney et al. (1997) reveal a positive correlation between the ‘way finding through orientation’ and 3DMR.

Way finding through orientation without the help of landmarks is a crucial skill for helping to pursue and track a prey randomly in terrain that is not familiar to the hunter while not losing the track for getting back home. Empirical research deploying virtual maze and research conducted using physical forest area by an evolutionary researcher (Moffat) in 1998 determined whether the participants could trace their original position using the shortest path after being taken through a random and circuitous path.

It indicated that the ability to do so was dependent on the sex of the participants (Silverman, Choi & Peters 2007). Referring to this research, Silverman, Choi, and Peters (2007) concludes, “In the latter study, regression analysis showed that the male advantage in way finding by orientation could be fully explained by sex differences” (p.261).

Way finding being a significant skill for hunting in an unfamiliar territory implies that the evolutionary theory on spatial abilities, as it relates to sex differences, holds substance in terms of explaining the differences in skill level abilities of men and women from the context of hunting and gathering.

Attempting to explain the differences in spatial skills abilities between males and females from the approach deployed by Silverman, Choi, and Peters (2007) infers that sex influences the hunting or gathering skill of an individual. Deployment of biological research in evolutionary theory suggests that sex is permanent and that an individual has no control over it since it is determined by the genetic makeup of the individual (Joshua, Max, Danielle & Steven, 2007).

Does it then mean that the genetic makeup of an individual can influence the gathering and hunting skills he or she possesses? The above position is refuted by social psychologists who see sex as a mechanism of determining the gender of an individual and not a set of tasks that a given person should execute by virtual of belonging to a given sex.

In the context of spatial differences, social psychologists argue that attributing gathering to women and hunting abilities to men is a mechanism of determination of gender roles, which according to them are merely normalizations of the society (Hardy-Fanta & Sierra, 2009). The argument is that attribution of certain behaviors and tasks such as gathering or hunting to a specific sex is misplaced since people from either sex can equally perform any task as long as environmental training is done on the individual.

This claim implies that the ability to do certain tasks and not others is acquired from the environment through social interaction, which is the theoretical inclination of social psychologists (Hardy-Fanta & Sierra, 2009). From social psychologists point of view, spatial differences in sex abilities are a phenomenon that is enhanced through behavior training.

Hence, men and women can equally perform well in the gathering or hunting tasks on equal training. While there is the need to appreciate and understand the need for equal participation of persons of different sexes in the modern era for different social tasks in equal thresholds, evidence on sex differences in the gathering and hunting reveals otherwise.

For instance, Hazda women have better object location than men (Cashdan et al., 2012) do. Therefore, women tend to do better in gathering relative to men. The empirical research conducted by Cashdan et al. (2012) on sex differences in terms of spatial competencies mentions the Hadza people (hunter-gatherers group of people living in Tanzania).

The authors sort to determine whether Euclidian perceptions of spatial abilities can be located in this group of people in terms of their mobility levels. They also sort to know whether women from the population were better equipped with location memory skills in comparison to men as an important skill for possession of gathering abilities as predicted and argued by the evolutionary theory (Cashdan et al., 2012).

The empirical study also determined whether women who are identified by other women as having the highest skills in gathering bush foods would also possess high memory for location of objects. The researchers deployed “object location memory with a version of the memory game using cards of local plants and animals” (Cashdan et al., 2012, p.274) to realize their research objectives.

This testing methodology was essential in helping to determine whether men and women from the Hadz population would possess the same spatial memory capacity for animals together with plant cards. The research findings indicated that Hadz men performed exemplary well in three main tests for spatial ability: “water-level test, targeting, and the ability to point accurately to distant locations” (Cashdan et al., 2012, p.275).

In particular, possession of higher targeting skills among men shows that men are better hunters in relation to women since hunting is an essential skill in catching a prey. Although Cashdan’s et al. (2012) empirical research on women who were regarded as the best bush foods finders comprised old women, gathering was as a task was best suited to women in comparison to men.

However, this case was not attributable to good object location memory since “there was a trend towards male advantage at the object location memory” (Cashdan et al., 2012, p.274). This verdict opposes past research findings that indicated that women have better object location skills hence making them better gatherers in comparison to men.

These mixed findings create a room for social psychologists to advance their theoretical paradigms that both sexes can equally perform well in all tasks that are predominantly believed as the province of one sex and not the other depending on the context and level of training through environmental interactions,.

The above position is subject to scholarly interrogation especially by considering the mixed findings on the evidence of possessing better gathering skills among women as discussed by Stoet (2011). The empirical researcher argues, “Existing studies corroborate that men excel in hunting-related skills, but there is only indirect support for women excelling in gathering tasks” (Stoet, 2011, p.416).

This aspect supports the conflicting findings on spatial differences in sex abilities introduced by Cashdan et al. (2012). Upon integrating the findings of Cashdan et al. (2012), Brown (2013), and Stoet (2011), it is arguable that the spatial ability of men in hunting is recognized by the evolutionary hypothesis scholars amid the existence of evidence, especially from social psychologists against the perception of contributions of gender differences in the performance of societal roles.

The gatherer-hunter hypothesis argues that sex differences are organized such that women cognitions are adapted evolutionarily so that they are better gatherers while men are better hunters. While this hypothesis is verified from the context of Joshua, Max, Danielle, and Steven (2007), it does not pass the verification test based on empirical evidence findings from Stoet (2011).

Stoet (2011) conducted three experimental tests to verify whether men are well adapted to hunting while women are well adapted to gathering tasks by testing whether women would outperform men in some laboratory chores, which require gathering skills. From the findings of the first experiment, men were able to locate target objects at a higher pace relative to women.

Men did this with minimal errors when “a classic visual search study” (Stoet, 2011, p.416) was conducted. In the second experiment, men and women participants were required to gather various items including letters depicted on a screen. Men again outperformed women. Lastly, in the last experiment, “incidental learning of object locations in a search experiment was studied, but no statistically significant sex differences were observed” (Stoet, 2011, 418).

This finding again disapproves that women cognitions are adapted to gathering tasks as advanced by the evolutionary hypothesis. The theory that men can perform better in tasks that are for women is supported from the position of social psychologist, the argument that women can equally perform in tasks that are predominantly perceived as the chores for men is nullified based on Stoet’s (2011) findings.

Amid conflicts of the evolutionary hypothesis emanating from Stoet’s (2011) findings and Cashdan et al. (2012), Neave, Hamilton, Hutton, Tildesley, Pickering, (2005) argue that such conflicts emanate from utilization of methodologies, which are void of ecological validity in the attempt to conduct empirical studies to verify the evolutionary theory.

The five researchers conducted two studies “in which object recognition and object location memory were addressed using real plants within naturalistic arrays” (Neave et al. 2005, p.146). They report that, in the first study, female participants identified particular plants that were located in small arrays faster and with few mistakes in comparison to their male counterparts.

Similar results were obtained in the second experiment where complex and bigger arrays were used to test object location skills between the male and female participants. These findings confirm the validity of the gathering hypothesis. Nevertheless, it is opposed the social psychological arguments that men and women can equally perform in similar tasks subject to erosion of gender roles profiling (Hardy-Fanta & Sierra, 2009).

While noting the heated scholarly debate on empirical evidence for validity of the gathering hypothesis, Ecuyer-Dab and Robert (2007) appreciates the need for verification of the hypothesis via meaningful ecological tests. The empirical researchers do this by reviewing evidence “after surveying the main anthropological information on ancestral sex-related foraging” (p.365).

The aim of the research was to evaluate the degree of robustness of the theoretical paradigm that women have peculiar advantages in object location memory in comparison to men. Tantamount to Neave, Hamilton, Hutton, Tildesley, Pickering (2005), their findings verified the gathering hypothesis since women were found to be better object locators as opposed to men.


The evolutionary hypothesis depicts sex as having the ability to determine various abilities between men and women. Women sex differences are cognitively adapted to engage in activities that relate to gathering due to their possession of cute object location skills. Conversely, men are well cognitively adapted to gathering due to their orientation, targeting, and navigational skills without losing the direction to get them back to their initial point of origin.

As argued in the literature review section, several attempts have been made by various evolutionary scholars to conduct empirical studies to verify this pure evolutionally hypothesis. Nevertheless, different empirical researchers have obtained different results from these studies leading to conflicting and similar conclusion about the validity of the evolutionary theory.

Through discussion of various research findings on empirical studies on the evolutionary theory, the study finds significant points of contention and departure from the postulation of gathering-hunter hypothesis. The researchers considered in the literature review verify the applicability and validity of the evolutionary theory in explaining the spatial abilities of men in hunting.

In case of association of women with spatial gathering abilities, different researches provide different empirical evidence for the hypotheses’ validity. In the attempt to interpret the social psychological theory based on aspects of spatial divisions of labor, the study finds it insignificant since men are presented as possessing spatial abilities, which are contended upon by the empirical evidence provided by different scholars whose empirical studies have been deployed to conduct the literature review.

Reference List

Brown, J. (2013). A sex difference in location-based inhibition-of-return. Personality & Individual Differences, 54(6), 721-725.

Cashdan, E., Marlowe, W., Crittenden, A., Porter, C., & Wood, M. (2012). Sex differences in spatial cognition among Hadza foragers. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(4), 274-284.

Ecuyer-Dab, I., & Robert, M. (2007). The Female Advantage in Object Location Memory According to the Foraging Hypothesis: A Critical Analysis. Human Nature, 18(4), 365-385.

Hardy-Fanta, C., & Sierra,C. (2009). Gender, race, and descriptive representation in the United States. Findings from the gender and multicultural leadership project. Journal of women politics and policy 28(3), 7-41.

Joshua, N., Max, M., Danielle, T., & Steven, J. (2007). Spatial adaptations for plant foraging: women excel and calories count: Proceedings of the Royal Society. Biological Sciences, 274(1626), 2679-2684.

McBurney, H., Gaulin, C., Devineni, T., & Adams, C. (1997). Superior spatial memory of women: Stronger evidence for the gathering hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18(3), 165-174.

Neave, N., Hamilton, C., Hutton, L., Tildesley, N., & Pickering, T. (2005). Some Evidence of a Female Advantage in Object Location Memory Using Ecologically Valid Stimuli. Human Nature, 16(2), 146-163.

Piccardi, L., Iaria, G., Ricci, M., Bianchini, F., Zompanti, L., & Guariglia, C. (2008). Walking in the Corsi test: Which type of memory do you need? Neuroscience Letters, 432(2), 127-131.

Silverman, I., Choi J., & Peters, M. (2007). The hunter gatherer theory of sex differences in spatial abilities: data from 40 countries. Arch sex behavior, 36(3), 261-268.

Stoet, G. (2011). Sex differences in search and gathering skills. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(6), 416-422.

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