Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gender difference in strategies for getting un-lost

so there's this old cliche about what men and women do differently when they get lost while driving in unfamiliar territory. Stereo-typically, women stop and ask someone, and men don't.

Here's a possible explanation based on a talk I saw at Ecole Polytechnique last week in Paris.

Hunters use a search strategy for finding prey (I suppose hunter gatherers do too for finding nts and berries and stuff), which entails alternating between local accurate surveillance of a small area, with a levy walk (random walk with path length eponentially distributed, not uniform). So in evolutionary terms, you might expect male humans to have such a strategy, whereas female humans might be in the village looking after kids (look, this isn't a proposal, so don't assume I believe in biological determinism as a prescription for social organisation:)

Anyhow, so assume a male car driver is running such a strategy. Stopping and asking the way would mess up where he had got to in the algorithm, and I can imagine there is a cognitive burden to searching like this, which would map into annoyance if interrupted.

If the population density had been higher when there was survival value in finding onesway, hen presumably the strategy of stopping and asking the way would perhaps have dominated both genders, but once people got to be "post-darwinian"
(i.e. where most people survive to breed irrespecive of "fitness"), then such selection doesn't happen, and we need to acquire better strategies through nurture...

An interesting question: Is there a sweet spot in population size where communities are more likely to be helpful to strangers finding their way, and larger, where alienation kicks in and people don't help? anecdotally, this seems reasonable to me...when lost in africa, I've had lots of help. when lost in NY, Paris, Munich, TOkyo, Sao Paulo, not a lot:)

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misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home