I personally never really understood where the stereotype that women are bad at map-reading comes from. When most of the women in my life are more composed, logical, and organised than I or any of the guys I know, it seems odd that girls should be known as poor navigators.
If you do happen to be female and utterly hopeless with maps, though, a recent study suggests that you might benefit from playing video games more often, with findings suggesting that those who regularly pick up a controller have a better sense of direction and get lost less often.
Carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, the study began by scanning the brains a sample of self-confessed non-gamers, the majority of whom were female. With maps of their noggins filed away, half of the participants were sent home to get on with their lives as normal. The others were (presumably after being provided with a Nintendo 64 and a copy of the game) instructed to play 3-D platformer Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day for the next two months.
With the test period over, participants were invited back and their brains scanned once again. Interestingly, researchers found that those who took Mario out for a spin on a daily basis had actually developed new grey matter in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory and orientation.
Later tests revealed that those who had played the Nintendo game throughout the two-month period were better at creating mental maps and exhibited better navigational skills, and it was thought that the nature of the game they played, which requires players to guide Mario through increasingly complex three-dimensional levels, had actively altered the structure of participants’ brains, making them more capable at remembering and plotting routes.
▼ It’s not yet clear whether dedicated gamers will also be rewarded with new acrobatic skills such as these
Lead researcher Dr. Simone Kühn suggested that playing video games like Super Mario 64 may in fact help keep our brains healthy, noting that although becoming easily disoriented can be an early sign of dementia, “video game playing could maybe prevent some of the decreases in structure and function seen in these degenerative diseases.”
Hear that, kids? Your parents were wrong. Now go and get some brain exercise and help Mario rescue that princess.