Byline: Neil McKay
REMINDING men of the stereotype that they are better navigators than women can actually improve their performance, according to Durham University research.
The findings from Dr Harriet Rosenthal, of the university's Psychology Department, have been published in the USA and follow experiments involving 80 undergraduates, 40 of each gender playing a video game.
Studies have found while men are better than women, on average, at using geometric cues to navigate, the genders are equally good at finding a destination when using landmarks.
But reinforcing the stereotype that men are better navigators made men better at both.
Dr Rosenthal said: "Even when no actual gender differences exist, this general stereotype can improve performance."
She added: "Scientists have long known that stereotypes can change the way people handle tasks. Being reminded of a negative stereotype - say, girls are bad at maths - can make the stereotyped group choke under pressure, a process called stereotype threat.
"On the flip side, stereotype lift occurs when a person is reminded that their demographic is supposed to be good at a particular task."
Navigation stereotypes were ideal for studying stereotype, Dr Rosenthal said, because the clich that men are better at directions than women doesn't take into account the sort of directions given.
Thus, researchers could look at how the stereotype affected both landmark navigation, which doesn't show any true gender differences, and geometric navigation, which does. …