Study says bad driving jokes make women drive worse

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Don't criticize, and she'll do just fine. Image: xJason.Rogersx/Flicker/CC BY

Women have been the butt of bad driving jokes since the beginning of driving. But which came first, the criticism or the behavior? A joint study between universities on both sides of the Atlantic concluded this week that women drive worse when their ability to drive is questioned. It may seem a no-brainer, but confidence wanes when it is challenged, and confident driving is good driving.

Joint research

Researchers from the University of Warwick and from the University of Georgia asked 500 students to perform spacial tasks that are stereotypically considered to be handled better by men. The study was co-authored by Dr. Sydney Felker from the University of Georgia and Dr. Zachary Estes, of Warwick. It has been published in the journal “Archives of Sexual Behavior.”

Studies in spatial tasks

Dr. Estes said:

“Prior research shows that women tend to do poorly on tasks that require spatial awareness. That is borne out in the common jokes we always hear about men being better at parking and map reading than women. But we wanted to see why that was, so we manipulated people’s confidence in our experiments with spatial tasks. And it does seem that confidence is a key factor in how well women perform at this kind of task.”

The tasks were all performed on a computer, and involved the spatial movement of various models — tasks associated with activities like driving. When the women were left to their won devices, they generally performed as well as the men. However, when criticized they did worse. The ability to preform each task also improved after the subject’s skills were praised.

Confidence is key

Dr. Estes concluded that differences may not be so much in abilities, but in how those abilities are perceived and supported by others.

“Our research suggests that by making a woman feel better about herself, she’ll become better at spatial tasks – which in the real world means tasks such as parking the car or reading a map. So a little bit of confidence-boosting may go a long way when it comes to reversing the car into a tight parking spot.”

And it probably wouldn’t hurt in other areas of a relationship, either. A little romance advice from the Car Dealer Expert.


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