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Last Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005, 01:52 GMT
Hormones make women safer drivers
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Women may be more cautious drivers than men
The female hormone oestrogen could give women the edge when it comes to tasks such as safe driving, say researchers.

Tests showed attention span and ability to learn rules were far better among women than men.

The Bradford University scientists told a hormone conference in London how tasks requiring mental flexibility favour women over men.

A woman's oestrogen levels may prime the part of the brain involved in such skills - the frontal lobe - they said.

Oestrogens may positively influence neuronal activity in the frontal lobes, the area of the brain stimulated by tasks of attention and rule learning
The study authors

Amarylis Fox, Dr Kay Marshall and Jo Neill asked 43 men and women aged 18-35 to perform a battery of neuropsychological tests that assessed skills such as spatial recognition memory, rule learning, attention, planning and motor control.

The women were far better at being able to shift their attention from one stimulus to another, making it easier for them to perform everyday actions like driving and reading.

This might explain why girls find it easier than boys to concentrate at school and why women are more careful drivers, the researchers hypothesise.

Speaking at the Society for Endocrinology meeting, they said: "This study demonstrates that tasks requiring mental flexibility favour women over men, an area previously not considered to elicit strong sex differences.

"Driving could be an example of how this is applied to everyday life.

"Our study suggests that oestrogens may positively influence neuronal activity in the frontal lobes, the area of the brain stimulated by tasks of attention and rule learning, which could explain the female advantage when performing these tasks."


However, other researchers in the past have suggested that spatial skills such as map reading and parking may be difficult for some women because they had too little testosterone in the womb.

Dr Peter Marsh, author of Driving Passion: The Psychology of the Car, believes men and women have inherent differences which manifest themselves behind the wheel.

We have to be cautious. The thing about driving is that it is not a single skill
Dr Nick Neave of the University of Northumbria

He says men like risk-taking, the thrill of the chase and sensation-seeking, while women are more cautious.

Women's accidents tend to be at roundabouts and T-junctions but at slower speeds than men, who are involved in more serious crashes because they can't brake quickly enough.

Dr Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Northumbria who has researched spatial awareness and gender differences, said: "The thing about driving is that it is not a single skill. There are many skills involved. There is a motor skill, there is rule learning, attention, spatial awareness and confidence as well.

"What we tend to find is that in certain aspects men are better - things like navigation, spatial awareness and confidence. But they have more accidents.

"For things like attention, there is evidence that females are better.

"There is a female advantage on certain frontal cortex tasks. We know that this brain area has oestrogen receptors so it is sensitive to this hormone.

"But we have to be cautious. The researchers have not looked at driving tests, so it is a bit of a leap for them to extrapolate.

"We would like to see more research on driving ability."

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