Sex differences in a virtual water maze: An eye tracking and pupillometry study

SC Mueller, Carl Jackson, [No Value] [No Value]

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

68 Citations (Scopus)


Sex differences in human spatial navigation are well known. However, the exact strategies that males and females employ in order to navigate successfully around the environment are unclear. While some researchers propose that males prefer environment-centred (allocentric) and females prefer self-centred (egocentric) navigation, these findings have proved difficult to replicate. In the present study we examined eye movements and physiological measures of memory (pupillometry) in order to compare visual scanning of spatial orientation using a human virtual analogue of the Morris Water Maze task. Twelve women and twelve men (average age= 24 years) were trained on a visible platform and had to locate an invisible platform over a series of trials. On all but the first trial, participants' eye movements were recorded for 3 s and they were asked to orient themselves in the environment. While the behavioural data replicated previous findings of improved spatial performance for males relative to females, distinct sex differences in eye movements were found. Males tended to explore consistently more space early on while females demonstrated initially longer fixation durations and increases in pupil diameter usually associated with memory processing. The eye movement data provides novel insight into differences in navigational strategies between the sexes. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-215
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


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