Spatial Adaptations for Plant Foraging: Women Excel and Calories Count

Department of Psychology, Yale University, 2 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven, CT 06520-8205, USA.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.05). 12/2007; 274(1626):2679-84. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.0826
Source: PubMed


We present evidence for an evolved sexually dimorphic adaptation that activates spatial memory and navigation skills in response to fruits, vegetables and other traditionally gatherable sessile food resources. In spite of extensive evidence for a male advantage on a wide variety of navigational tasks, we demonstrate that a simple but ecologically important shift in content can reverse this sex difference. This effect is predicted by and consistent with the theory that a sexual division in ancestral foraging labour selected for gathering-specific spatial mechanisms, some of which are sexually differentiated. The hypothesis that gathering-specific spatial adaptations exist in the human mind is further supported by our finding that spatial memory is preferentially engaged for resources with higher nutritional quality (e.g. caloric density). This result strongly suggests that the underlying mechanisms evolved in part as adaptations for efficient foraging. Together, these results demonstrate that human spatial cognition is content sensitive, domain specific and designed by natural selection to mesh with important regularities of the ancestral world.

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Available from: Steven J C Gaulin, Feb 04, 2014
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    • "Indeed, enhancement of spatial memory may yield advantages to female animals, since information of a particular location is critical to them for assurance of resources (i.e. foods and shelters) for perseveration of the species even in the severe stress condition (New et al., 2007). "
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    • "There is evidence that although men have better spatial skills in general, women may possess specific spatial skills suited for gathering (Silverman et al., 2007). One study conducted at a large farmers' market showed that women were better than men at pointing to the locations of stalls where they had previously been given particular food items (New et al., 2007). This makes sense in hunger-gatherer terms, as foraging sites – unlike game – can be counted on to stay in the same place. "
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