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Virtual Reality Researchers Claim: Gay Men Navigate In A Similar Way To Women

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Dr Qazi Rahman, from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences used virtual reality scenarios to investigate if spatial learning and memory in humans can be linked to sexual orientation. They obviously did read neither old Alfred Kinsey, nor recent Anne Fausto-Sterling about the questionable concept of “dimorphism” in matters like sexual orientation.

Participants had to navigate in a virtual environment. (Credit: Image courtesy of Queen Mary, University of London)

Differences in spatial learning and memory (our ability to record and recall information about our environment) are common between men and women. It has been shown that men consistently outperform women on tasks requiring navigation and discovering hidden objects; whereas women are more successful at tests which require them to remember where those objects lie in a particular space. University of Toronto researchers have likewise demonstrated that differences between men and women on some tasks that require spatial skills are largely eliminated after both groups play a video game for only a few hours.

Unbelievably though, Dr. Rahman still found means to investigate if those differences are also true for gay, lesbian and straight individuals, and with highly doubtful methods on top of it. He used virtual reality stimulations of two common tests of spatial learning and memory, designed by researchers at Yale University. In the Morris Water Maze test (MWM), participants found themselves in a virtual pool and had to escape as quickly as possible using spatial clues in the virtual room to find a hidden platform. In the Radial Arm Maze test (RAM), participants had to traverse eight ‘arms’ from a circular junction to find hidden rewards. Four of the arms contained a reward, four did not.

Dr Rahman and his research assistant, Johanna Koerting, found that during the MWM test gay men and straight women took longer to find the hidden platform than did straight men. However, both gay and straight men spent more of their “dwelling time” in the area where the hidden platform actually was, compared to straight and lesbian women. What they did not even test was previous aquaintance with similar computer or video games among the mentioned subgroups. Instead Dr Rahman explains in an acrobatic non-sequitur: “Not only did straight men get started on the MWM test more quickly than gay men and the two female groups, they also maintained that advantage throughout the test. This might mean that sexual orientation affects the speed at which you acquire spatial information, but not necessarily your eventual memory for that spatial information.” This might mean as well nothing of the sort.

He continues:“In previous studies we have also found that gay men tend to use similar navigation strategies to women, like using land-marks, and we now want to explore whether navigation strategies on these virtual navigation tasks are also the same for gay men and women. In particular, we are interested in whether heterosexual men are using a unique strategy from their first attempt at traversing a new environment, which accounts for why they are so quick off the mark.”

The researchers also found that gay and straight men were similar in their performance on the Radial Arm Maze. “This suggests that sexual variation in spatial cognition is not straightforward – gay people appear to show a ‘mosaic’ of performance, parts of which are male-like and other parts which are female-like,” adds Rahman.

Dr Rahman also commented that it would be interesting to see if these sexual differences change with age. “We know that spatial ability declines more rapidly in men with age than in women, and this might be related to changing hormone profiles. This may have some relevance to sex differences in ageing-related diseases of cognitive functioning, such as dementia.

“If we can understand more about how people of different sexes and sexualities differ in spatial performance, we might be able to tailor cognitive remediation therapies more effectively to specific groups within an ageing population.”

We wish Dr. Rahman and his co-author a video game remediation therapy, individually tailored to both, their kinsey scale rating and their very age, once they are going to live in an old people’s home.

Hippocampus. 2008;18(1):55-63.

Sexual orientation-related differences in allocentric spatial memory tasks.
Rahman Q, Koerting J.

Department of Psychology, School of Psychology, University of East London, London, United Kingdom.

Spatial memory in mammals, including humans, appears highly sexually dimorphic. The present investigation sought to examine if spatial learning and spatial memory in humans is also linked to sexual orientation. This was achieved by using virtual reality versions of two classic paradigms developed in animal models of hippocampal functioning, the Morris Water Maze (MWM) and Radial Arm Maze (RAM). Here, we show that in contrast to heterosexual men, and in congruence with heterosexual women, homosexual men displayed significantly greater search latencies (spatial learning) during a virtual Morris Water Maze. During a virtual 8-arm Radial Arm Maze, heterosexual males had significantly shorter search latency than heterosexual females, and did not differ from homosexual males. Statistical modeling revealed that variations in neurodevelopmental markers previously associated with human sexual orientation (2nd to 4th finger length ratios and older fraternal siblings) differentially predicted MWM probe trial performance and RAM search latencies only. These data may limit the number of possible neurodevelopmental pathways responsible for sexual variation in components of spatial learning and memory. (c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

see also:

Playing Video Games Reduces Sex Differences In Spatial Skills

Written by huehueteotl

January 4, 2008 at 1:43 pm

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