Sex differences in spatial cognition among Hadza foragers

Elizabeth Cashdan, Frank W. Marlowe, Alyssa Crittenden, Claire Porter, Brian M. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Scopus citations


This paper describes sex differences in spatial competencies among the Hadza, a mobile hunter-gatherer population in Tanzania. It addresses the following questions: (a) Is the usual male advantage in Euclidean spatial abilities found in this population, where both women and men are highly mobile? (b) Do Hadza women have better object location memory than men, as the gathering hypothesis predicts? (c) Do women who are nominated by others as being good at finding bushfoods excel at the object location memory task? We tested object location memory with a version of the memory game using cards of local plants and animals. This allowed us to also ask whether women and men would have better spatial memory for the plant and animal cards, respectively. We found that Hadza men were significantly better than women in three tests of spatial ability: the water-level test, targeting, and the ability to point accurately to distant locations (the latter only in the less mobile groups). There was a trend toward a male advantage at the object location memory task, in contrast to results found previously in nonforaging populations, and women's performance at the task deteriorated with age, while that of men did not. The women who were nominated by peers as being good at finding bushfoods were consistently older women. We discuss the probable hormonal causes and functional consequences of age changes in the spatial competencies of female foragers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)274-284
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2012


  • Gathering hypothesis
  • Gender
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Object location memory
  • Sex differences
  • Spatial cognition

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