Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Girlfriend, Where’s My Car?

By Tim Hannan

Men and women use different strategies to find their car, with different degrees of success.

Tim Hannan is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Charles Sturt University, and the President of the Australian Psychological Society.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

For some, locating one’s vehicle in the car park of a shopping centre is quite a straightforward process that follows an internalised spatial map. For others, however, it is often a hesitant venture into an unfamiliar maze characterised by random wandering in a manner reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode. A recent study by a group of Dutch researchers found that difficulties in locating one’s car are surprisingly common, and added the intriguing finding that men and women may use quite different strategies, with varying degrees of success.

The study by Utrecht University’s Albert Postma and his colleagues, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, examined the strategies that men and women used to locate their car in the parking area of a large shopping centre. About 50% of the 115 participants admitted to occasional or frequent difficulties finding their car, and most claimed to employ one or more deliberate strategies to facilitate remembering the location, such as estimating the distance to the car park exit or noticing landmarks.

Most participants located their cars quickly but as many as 14% made a marked detour on the way, with most of these wanderers being women. The researchers also noted that women were on average less accurate than men when asked to estimate from memory the distance from the centre exit to their parked car, even though both sexes...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.