The parallel map theory (Jacobs & Schenk, 2003) offers a precise framework to understand mechanisms of cognitive sex differences in spatial cognition – in voles, mice, kangaroo rats and humans. In these polygamous species, females prefentially use information from positional cues, males from directional cues. Different bodies, different minds – variation in the masculinization of the digit ratio in women – the relative length of the index and ring fingers on the dominant hand, a proposed biomarker of fetal exposure to androgens –  correlated with directional cue orientation. Natural space use patterns correlate with species and sex differences in relative hippocampal size in wild voles and kangaroo rats.

Key Papers

Bettis TJ, Jacobs LF (2013) Sex differences in memory for landmark arrays in C57BL/J6 mice. Animal Cognition 16:873–882.  PDF 

Chai XJ, Jacobs LF (2012) Digit ratio predicts sense of direction in women. PLoS ONE 7:e32816.  PDF

Chai XJ, Jacobs LF (2009) Sex differences in directional cue use in a virtual landscape. Behavioral Neuroscience 123:276–283. PDF

Barkley CL, Jacobs LF (2007) Sex and species differences in spatial memory in food-storing kangaroo rats. Animal Behaviour 73:321–329.  PDF

Jacobs LF (1996) Sexual selection and the brain. Trends Ecol Evol 11:82–86.  PDF

Jacobs LF, Spencer WD (1994) Natural space-use patterns and hippocampal size in kangaroo rats. Brain Behav Evol 44:125–132.  PDF

Sherry DF, Jacobs LF, Gaulin SJC (1992) Spatial memory and adaptive specialization of the hippocampus. Trends Neurosci 15:298–303.  PDF

Jacobs LF, Gaulin SJ, Sherry DF, Hoffman GE (1990) Evolution of spatial cognition: sex-specific patterns of spatial behavior predict hippocampal size. Proc National Acad Sci 87:6349–6352.  PDF

Positional cues

Directional cues