Lost & Lost-erAccording to a study funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, about 40 percent of the time people spend driving and 20 percent of the miles we drive are due to “navigational failures.”

That’s a polite way of saying the drivers were lost (Hallinan 2009).

Many would guess that most of those miles driven due to being lost are because men refuse to ask directions. Many women reading this are probably shaking their heads at what they see as the stubbornness of men in their lives who insist on finding their own way.

Is it true that men tend to not ask for directions?

The Development of Wayfinding Strategies

By the age of six, boys are more reluctant to ask for directions. In one study, an experimenter led three groups of people on a walk across a college campus: six-year-olds, twelve-year-olds and twenty-two-year olds. The groups were all asked to take the same path back. The researchers measured the distance traveled on the return trip and how much distance was off the original route.

The six-year-old boys wandered off the path the most–by far. In addition, the girls were more likely than the boys to accept offers of help back to the correct route. The girls stopped to ask directions while the boys muddled through using various wayfinding alternatives.

From the time they are young, girls are often not encouraged to explore their world as much as boys are. Fearful parents keep their children close to home and city kids may not be allowed to roam as far as those living in the country. In general though, around the age of eight, the “home range” expands rapidly and the range is almost always greater for boys. By the age of nine, boys are allowed to roam more than twice as far as girls, regardless of where the children live.

From the age of eight on, boys are able to describe the areas around their homes in vivid details and their maps are more accurate, giving almost twice as much information as the maps drawn by girls. These differences do not appear to be genetic. A key component of developing this spatial skill and attention to the environment seems to be that children actively explore the world around them rather than be passively exposed to it.  It’s like the difference between driving to a destination versus riding zoned-out in the passenger seat.

The result is that men are more confident about their sense of direction and less anxious about getting lost. Women report more anxiety about everyday directional tasks, even about knowing which way to turn coming out of a parking garage.

The men’s confidence results in their taking a different approach to navigating. In general, they prefer a more abstract approach such as using miles and cardinal directions like east and north. Women prefer instructions using landmarks and lefts and rights.

Men are content to wander around and don’t see that as meaning they are off-track. According to Hallinan, the reason men don’t ask for directions is because they don’t see themselves as lost.

Implications for the Emotionally Sensitive

What does this have to do with being emotionally sensitive?  Maybe nothing, but I think that the way we view our personal experiences is often rooted in what we learn about ourselves and the world at a young age. The impact of  learning by being allowed to explore could apply to what we are taught about our emotions.

Some of us are taught that emotions are normal and we’re encouraged to experience them and learn about them. Others may be taught to be afraid of their emotions, to stay away from them, push away and deny them. How people adjust to having intense emotions may partially come from the attitudes of the people closest to them.

Some emotionally sensitive people are fearful of their emotions and try to block or avoid their experience of them. They may fear being lost in sadness or anxiety.  They may ask for “directions” on how to cope with emotions and what they are supposed to feel. Perhaps that comes from being taught that their emotions are not normal and are something to fear.

In fact, families of emotionally sensitive people are believed to be more fearful of emotions and un-accepting of less desired emotions in particular.  Children in these families may be taught to not feel, so they don’t develop their own wayfinding strategies. The emotionally sensitive may be wary of exploring or experiencing their emotions because they were not allowed to do so as children.

Mindfulness and Emotions

Mindfulness is a way of being with emotions and accepting them without judging them, a way of exploring and learning about emotions so you develop more confidence and comfort. When you are mindful of your emotions, you don’t look to others for how to feel or for the reasons you feel the way you do.

When you aren’t afraid of your emotions and have confidence they will pass, you don’t add emotions on top of emotions, such as adding fear of anger on top of anger. Being mindful of your emotions, you don’t see yourself as “off track” when you feel sad or upset–your trust that you will find your way.

Note to Readers:  My sincere thanks to everyone who has completed our second survey. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the  survey questions about being emotionally sensitive. I’ll be closing the survey soon. Results will be given in a future post.


Hallinan, Joseph T. Why We Make Mistakes.  New York:  Broadway Books, 2009.

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheeErin