Spatial cognition research is a major interest of mine. This one’s a doozy. From ScienceDaily, Jan 3, 2008:
Gay Men Navigate In A Similar Way To Women, Virtual Reality Researchers Find
ScienceDaily (Jan. 3, 2008)
Gay men navigate in a similar way to women, according to a new study from researchers at Queen Mary, University of London.
Dr Qazi Rahman, from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences used virtual reality scenarios to investigate if spatial learning and memory in humans can be linked to sexual orientation.
Differences in spatial learning and memory (our ability to record and recall information about our environment) are common between men and women. It has been shown that men consistently outperform women on tasks requiring navigation and discovering hidden objects; whereas women are more successful at tests which require them to remember where those objects lie in a particular space.
This is the first study to investigate if those differences are also true for gay, lesbian and straight individuals.
Dr Rahman used virtual reality stimulations of two common tests of spatial learning and memory, designed by researchers at Yale University. In the Morris Water Maze test (MWM), participants found themselves in a virtual pool and had to escape as quickly as possible using spatial clues in the virtual room to find a hidden platform. In the Radial Arm Maze test (RAM), participants had to traverse eight ‘arms’ from a circular junction to find hidden rewards. Four of the arms contained a reward, four did not.
The virtual ‘water maze’ the participants faced.
Dr Rahman and his research assistant, Johanna Koerting, found that during the MWM test gay men and straight women took longer to find the hidden platform than did straight men. However, both gay and straight men spent more of their “dwelling time” in the area where the hidden platform actually was, compared to straight and lesbian women.
Dr Rahman explains: “Not only did straight men get started on the MWM test more quickly than gay men and the two female groups, they also maintained that advantage throughout the test. This might mean that sexual orientation affects the speed at which you acquire spatial information, but not necessarily your eventual memory for that spatial information.
More at ScienceDaily. Same site also has a story on earlier research showing sexual differences in navigation skills and how well they lasted as we age.