The Frontal Cortex

Parking and Gender

I’m now officially the most annoying backseat driver ever. I was annoying before, but ever since I read Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic (a great book) I’ve turned into a Mr. Know It All, offering pearls of wisdom on everything from how to merge (be selfish) to the ideal type of intersection (the roundabout). I’ve even started dispensing parking advice, which caused my girlfriend to kick me out of the car in the supermarket parking lot this weekend:

In the Wal-Mart parking lot, there was something else interesting about the two groups of parkers. More women opt to adopt the “cycling” strategy [this means that you drive in circles as you actively look for the best parking spot], while more men seemed to opt for the “pick a row, closest space” tactic. Veleky wondered if a “gender effect” existed in the way women and men perceived distance and travel time. So he gathered a group of subjects and had them estimate the distance to an object at varying locations, and then asked them to estimate the time it would take them to walk there. Men seemed to underestimate how long it would take to walk, while women seemed to overestimate it – which might explain the differences in parking strategies.

For what it’s worth, I’m a perfectionist parker.

Comments

  1. #1 Ian
    September 22, 2008

    Gas supplies/prices being the way they are, there really isn’t any valid excuse at all for driving endlessly round and round looking for that space which is three yards closer to the door than the last space you passed, regardless of gender.

  2. #2 yttrai
    September 22, 2008

    “More women opt to adopt the “cycling” strategy [this means that you drive in circles as you actively look for the best parking spot], while more men seemed to opt for the “pick a row, closest space” tactic.”

    I have yet to see a SB gender related generalization where i don’t fall on the opposite side than i’m “supposed” to.

    How rigorous was this data? Was the difference truly significant? Not to rain on the premise or stomp my soapbox harder than i have to, but isn’t it really time to stop focusing on the differences between the genders and just try to get along?

    (Yes, in a bit of a tetchy mood, why do you ask? ;))

  3. #3 Rachael
    September 22, 2008

    I would offer an alternative explanation (because I honestly find it hard to believe that men consistently underestimate distances and women consistently overestimate them — that’s just weird). I think women have a gestalt approach to any problem, whereas men have a more linear way of thinking.

    And, for what it’s worth, I really hate the stereotype that women can’t parallel park. It’s such an oversimplification. There are many typical male tasks that I’m terrible at, but I rock at parallel parking. We often hear that men have a better visual sense than women (this makes sense), but I’d like to see someone break it down into 2D (linear) and 3D (geometric) abilities. I can’t picture things in my head, navigate on a map, draw or do many typical 2D visual tasks, but I have a great abstract geometric sense, which is good for rotating objects, turning things inside out, writing backwards and conceptualizing space. Parallel parking is a geometric task.

    I see, too, that my approach to mathematical tasks is often different than my male colleagues, and I believe this has to do with a female tendency to consider the conceptual whole rather before individual parts. I’ve helped teach a very math-intensive class to undergraduate engineers, and, unfortunately, it the women, predictably, do very badly in the class. In the several cases I observed personally, the women would halt as soon as they got confused or lost track of where they were headed. They wouldn’t finish a proof until they were sure that they could. Often, the women tried to work piecewise or backwards to construct the bigger picture before they could understand how to do the stepwise elements to the proof. Men, on the other hand, tended to barrel through all derivations regardless of whether they understood the conceptual framework to their proof; they were certain they would reach the end, so they focused on the details and got there sequentially by proceeding linearly from one step to another.

    Basically, I have this theory that women are multitasking conceptual thinkers, and that men tend to be more linear, detail-oriented thinkers. But I’m basing this all on personal observation : )

  4. #4 E.
    September 22, 2008

    ” …a female tendency to consider the conceptual whole rather before individual parts.”

    If women really were “multitasking conceptual thinkers,” it would mean that the first commenter Rachel – being a woman – would not have the innate ability to observe that men are “linear, detail-oriented thinkers.”

    Indeed, her conceptual woman-nes would hinder her acuity …

  5. #5 G.D.
    September 22, 2008

    I’ve noticed it before, but still find it fascinating. Whenever some claim is made suggesting a statistically significant difference between men and women, the commenters seem to go into a frenzy of non-sequiteurs and fallacious reasoning.

    For example: “I honestly find it hard to believe that men consistently underestimate distances and women consistently overestimate them”

    This is emphatically NOT the claim made in the passage quoted by Lehrer. Substitute “consistently” with “statistically” and you get a radically different claim.

    Similarly commenter E makes is guilty of a similarly ridiculous equivocation (although I suspect the comment was humorously intended” when going from “a female tendency” to “Rachel – being a woman – would not have the innate ability …” You don’t have to have many critical thinking classes to see the problem with this step.

    yttrai, on the other hand, suspects that there is something amiss in the study – but offers absolutely no reason to think so apart from some utterly unfounded skepticism about the significance of the data set; without further explanation, it looks like a rather irrational dismissal of statistical results because it conflicts with some cherished beliefs

    Why is this so?

  6. #6 Marin
    September 22, 2008

    An interesting (I think) twist: every women’s fitness magazine in the world runs an article about every three months on how little changes can help you on your road to fitness. Parking as far away from the door as you can is one of those little changes.

    I know a *lot* of women who take the farthest parking spaces, and they rarely require driving around to obtain.

  7. #7 Lee Pirozzi
    September 22, 2008

    I am hoping that most women consider the safety issue of parking too far away from a building – as for a woman that is the most important issue. As for your explicit instructions to the driver – I have to ask…..did she drop
    you off at the most distant corner of the parking lot so that she had time to finish shopping by the time you made the entrance? HA – you set yourself up for that one!

  8. #8 laurelin
    September 22, 2008

    The only time I’m real bad at parallel parking is when a man is sitting next to me in the car judging my skills or offering advice, or when there’s a car behind me inching forward and pressuring me. In those situations, I mess up (though I’m getting better at ignoring those influences). All other times, I completely rock it: hills, stick shift, super small space, whatever. I think it has mostly to do with confidence (assuming you have basic parallel parking skills of course, which I admit not everyone has), not innate visual/spacial skills.

  9. #9 Sam(antha or uel?) C
    September 23, 2008

    Not wholly on topic, but I love the “irregular adjectives” used for some of these issues:
    * if a woman does several jobs at once, she’s multi-tasking, if a man does several jobs at once he’s got poor concentration
    * if a woman concentrates on a single task aiming to complete it fully, she’s focused, if a man does the same, he’s obsessive

  10. #10 OftenWrongTed
    September 23, 2008

    Is your example of being ousted from the car at all related to Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”?

  11. #11 Rachael
    September 25, 2008

    I’m not saying that women can’t think linearly, or that men can’t think conceptually (that would be absurd). From personal, non-scientific, observational experience, I find that men and women approach problem solving tasks differently.

    >> All other times, I completely rock it: hills, stick shift, super small space, whatever. I think it has mostly to do with confidence (assuming you have basic parallel parking skills of course, which I admit not everyone has), not innate visual/spacial skills.

    Another one for the female parallel parkers! :P sorry, I get irritated with that particular stereotype.

    I think you raise an interesting point about confidence…

    >> Not wholly on topic, but I love the “irregular adjectives” used for some of these issues:
    * if a woman does several jobs at once, she’s multi-tasking, if a man does several jobs at once he’s got poor concentration
    * if a woman concentrates on a single task aiming to complete it fully, she’s focused, if a man does the same, he’s obsessive

    And where did Sam– find the descriptors “poor concentration” or “obsessive” in this article or line of comments?

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