Dude, Where's My Car?
Men and women use different spatial memory techniques to find their cars in crowded parking lots, says a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology. The research showed women relied more on visible landmarks and took substantial detours, while men were better at estimating distances and more likely to take a direct route to the vehicle.
The subjects were 115 shoppers, 59 men and 56 women, at a mall in the Netherlands. Each underwent interviews and tests designed to assess spatial memory, or the ability to remember where things are in the world. For example, they were asked to estimate the distance from the mall exit to the car and to point to their car on a map of the 431-space lot. Subjects described the route and strategies they might use to locate their car.
About 59% of women and 42% of men reported having some or frequent problems retracing their cars in parking lots, though the difference wasn’t statistically significant. Landmarks were used by 38% of women compared with 15% of men; 21% of women and 7% of men said they often took detours of up to 400 feet before finding the vehicle.
Men were significantly better than women at estimating the car’s location on a map but 83% of women and 81% of men reported using conscious strategies to find it. For example, 57% of women and 66% of men park near the entrance; 63% of women and 49% of men retrace their original path; 38% of women and 32% of men use mental imagery; and about 20% of both sexes have a favorite spot. Only 4% use a mobile phone app or GPS device.
The findings offer an insight into how spatial memory is used in the real world, researchers said.