Men Gather, Women Hunt?

Results of a recent study seem to disprove the idea that men have better spatial skills than women.


The results of a recent study seem to disprove the commonly accepted idea that men have better spatial skills than women. The study, which took place in a rural village in Mexico, tracked men and women as they went out and foraged for mushrooms. Researchers found that women were more efficient—finding more mushrooms, in a greater variety, from more sites, in less time and without having to travel as far as men did.

From Kevin Lewis of The Boston Globe:

"The conventional wisdom is that men have better spatial skills, while women have better verbal skills, but a new study offers a more nuanced view. Researchers tracked men and women from a rural village in Mexico as they foraged for mushrooms. Using GPS and activity monitors, the researchers found that men were less efficient—they traveled farther, went higher, and exerted more effort than women for the same amount of mushrooms. Women also collected a greater variety of mushrooms from more sites. This pattern is consistent with the theory that, during the hunter-gatherer period of human evolution, women honed spatial skills needed for gathering while men honed spatial skills needed for hunting.

Pacheco-Cobos, L. et al., ”Sex Differences in Mushroom Gathering: Men Expend More Energy to Obtain Equivalent Benefits,” Evolution and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

Autism comes in clusters
The number of autism diagnoses has increased dramatically during the last several decades. Some blame the environment, some blame pathogens, and some blame changing diagnostic standards. Researchers at Columbia University think we should add another cause to the mix: social influence. Analyzing data from California, the researchers found that a child who lived closer to other children with autism was more likely to be subsequently diagnosed with autism. Of course, this fact alone could be explained by something in the environment, a pathogen, or local medical culture. However, there wasn’t a similar change in diagnoses of mental retardation, the effect held up even with controls for individual and community characteristics, and the effect was strongest for younger children and high-functioning autism--observations inconsistent with alternative explanations.

Liu, K. et al., ”Social Influence and the Autism Epidemic,” American Journal of Sociology (March 2010)."

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