Universiteit Leiden

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Men are not better than women at navigating, although they think they are

Last year, more than 8,000 respondents in the Netherlands took part in a public survey on their navigation behaviour. Headed by neuroscientist Ineke van der Ham from Leiden University, as part of the Weekend of Science, the survey studied how people navigate.

Using an online game, participants had to carry out navigation tasks. Such factors as age and gender were taken into account in measuring their performance. Whereas there are much stronger stereotypes about gender than about age when navigating, the results show that age has a greater influence on navigation behaviour.

Brain damage

Van der Ham's aim is to help patients with navigation problems. Almost one in three people with some form of brain damage have difficulty finding their way. For people with dementia, getting lost is a major problem and there is as yet no successful therapy to help them. Before a good treatment can be devised, we first need to know how 'healthy' people navigate. This data will help therapists develop a treatment that can help people overcome their problems with navigating. 

Van der Ham: “The data show very clearly what a big effect age has on the ability to navigate. That's never been shown before on such a scale and it confirms for us which regions of the brain play a part in the different tasks involved in navigating. Comparable studies on age and navigation-related skills have had limitations in terms of the number of participants, the age range and the types of tasks.  In our game we had participants ranging from children to elderly people, which has given us some very valuable data that will help us develop a suitable therapy.”

Gender and age

The test, that consisted of five tasks, showed that four of the five tasks were more difficult for older participants. 

Male/female differences are barely noticeable and if they are apparent, it is mainly because ageing has a stronger negative effect on women. Gender and age have an enormous effect on how well people think they can navigate. The older you are, the more you overestimate yourself, and men overestimate themselves more often, while women are more likely to underestimate themselves. Poorly estimating their own navigation ability starts from late puberty, probably because our self-image is influenced positively or negatively by culturally determined stereotypes. Boys start overestimating themselves from that point on.
 

Nationwide public survey

Every year since 2014, the Weekend of Science has carried out a nationwide public survey. In addition to the activities during the weekend of 6 and 7 October this year, the whole of the Netherlands will also have the opportunity to study the world of science and technology via this survey. The internet survey by the University of Groningen into the myths surrounding left and right-handedness attracted 30,000 participants aged 5 to 95. And last year almost 11,000 people took part in the online survey on hallucinations.

Weekend of Science

The Amsterdam Science Museum (NEMO), supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, organises the Weekend of Science every year. This major nationwide technology and science event is made possible thanks to more than 350 companies, institutes, universities, research institutions and museums open their doors to the public during the weekend of 6 and 7 October.  The aim is to allow the people of the Netherlands to see for themselves how important science and technology are. 

The most current list of participating organisations can be found at weekendvandewetenschap.nl

Text: BAAS Amsterdam
Photo: Taco van der Eb

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