2005-11-08

Science & Intolerance: Hormone Impact on Car Driving

The female hormone 'oestrogen' could give women 'the edge' when it comes to tasks such as 'safe driving', say researchers... Tests showed 'attention span' and ability to learn rules were far better among women than men. The 'Bradford University' scientists told an hormone conference in London how tasks requiring mental flexibility favour women over men. A woman's 'oestrogen' levels may prime the part of the brain involved in such skills -- the 'frontal lobe' -- they said. They asked 43 men and women aged 18/35 to perform a 'battery' of 'neuropsychological' tests that assessed skills such as 'spatial recognition memory', 'rule learning', 'attention', 'planning' and 'motor control'. The women were far better at being able to shift their attention from one stimulus to another, making it easier for them to perform everyday actions like driving and reading. This might explain why girls find it easier than boys to concentrate at school and why women are more careful drivers, the researchers hypothesise. Speaking at 'The Society for Endocrinology' meeting, they said:
'This study demonstrates that tasks requiring mental flexibility favour women over men, an area previously not considered to elicit strong sex differences. 'Driving could be an example of how this is applied to everyday life. 'Our study suggests that "oestrogens" may positively influence "neuronal activity" in the "frontal lobes", the area of the brain stimulated by tasks of "attention" and "rule learning", which could explain the female advantage when performing these tasks.'
Over-simplified However, other researchers in the past have suggested that 'spatial' skills such as 'map reading' and 'parking' may be difficult for some women because they had too little 'testosterone' in the womb. Mr.Peter Marsh, author of 'Driving Passion: The Psychology of the Car', believes men and women have inherent differences which manifest themselves behind the wheel. He says men like 'risk-taking', the 'thrill of the chase' and 'sensation-seeking', while women are more cautious. Women's accidents tend to be at 'roundabouts' and 'T-junctions' but at slower speeds than men, who are involved in more serious crashes because they can't brake quickly enough. Mr.Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at 'The University of Northumbria' who has researched 'spatial awareness' and 'gender differences', said:
'The thing about driving is that it is not a single skill; there are many skills involved: There is a "motor skill", there is "rule learning", "attention", "spatial awareness" and "confidence" as well. 'What we tend to find is that in certain aspects men are better -- things like "navigation", "spatial awareness" and "confidence". 'But they have more accidents. 'For things like "attention", there is evidence that females are better. 'There is a female advantage on certain "frontal cortex" tasks. 'We know that this brain area has "oestrogen receptors" so it is sensitive to this hormone. 'But we have to be cautious; the researchers have not looked at driving tests, so it is a bit of a leap for them to extrapolate. 'We would like to see more research on driving ability.'
'Hormones make women safer drivers', BBC News, 2005-11-07

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