Why Men Don’t Read Maps Better Than Women

A recent study showed that there is no adaptive reason why males are (slightly) better at spatial orientation than females. The cause for this feature could be the amount of testosterone in one’s body.

I like this report for two reasons:
(a) It brings back memories of vivid discussions with my wife while driving through France or Germany during summer holidays;
(b) It points to the limits of adaptive thinking within evolutionary theory. This is definitely not – not! – to say that evolutionary thinking is wrong, not at all. But there is a tendency within (maybe foremost popularised) evolutionary theory to take an adaptationist perspective as the sole explanatory tool for a given feature. As this study – if not falsified, you know how preliminary science can be – shows – evolution is more complex than that. A change in one feature, occurring for adaptive reasons and anchored within the genotype, can have effects on other parts of a phenotype. Those effects in themselves are not, strictly speaking, adaptations. Stephen Gould coined the term ‘exaptation‘ for these kinds of features. This is important to note, because this ‘adaptation fallacy’ often enough occurs when applying evolution on culture. I do believe it is legitimate to do this, but I also think the complexity of culture can not be grasped by looking for straight causal lines between adaptive needs/benefits and the emergence of cultural elements.

Mind you: there is definitely an adaptive pressure on men to agree with their spouses that maps are always drawn upside down…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s