Have sex differences in spatial ability evolved from male competition for mating and female concern for survival?

Cognition. 2004 Apr;91(3):221-57. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2003.09.007.


Drawing on the theoretical and empirical foundations of two evolutionary models, we argue that, among humans and other mammals, a twofold selection process would parsimoniously account for sex-linked advantages in spatial contexts. In males, a superiority for both solving navigation-related spatial problems and understanding physical principles that apply to the behavior of projectiles could have been inherited from mating-oriented male competition involving extensive ranging and agonistic displays. In females, a form of superior spatial memory may have been shaped in relation to a costly reproduction system compelling them to safeguard their survival and that of their offspring by fostering low-risk strategies consisting of restricted navigation as well as concentration on nearby spatial cues. Based on the combined action of competition and survival pressures, we submit new predictions as to spatial sex differences in several species including humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Primates*
  • Sex Factors
  • Space Perception*
  • Survival