Key Points:

The cliches that women can't read maps and men can't see things right under their noses seem to have been explained by science.

Researchers believe the reason the sexes differ is because of their specific roles in evolution.

Men had to hunt and stalk their prey, so became skilled at navigation, while women foraged for food and became good at spotting fruit and nuts close by.

The theory emerged from a study which looked at the different way in which men and women appreciate art.

The researchers tested 10 men and 10 women, showing them paintings and photos of urban scenes and landscapes, asking them to rate each scene as either "beautiful" or "not beautiful".

At the same time the scientists looked at images of the magnetic fields produced by electrical currents in the brains of the men and women.

They discovered that when women admired a "beautiful" picture, neurons on both sides of the brain were stimulated, but in men only those on the right side activated. The left side deals with closer-range objects while the right is better at co-ordinates.

The scientists from the University of California reported their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They wrote: "Women tend to be more aware than men of objects around them, including those that seem irrelevant to the current task, whereas men outperform women in navigation.

"Men tend to solve navigation tasks by using orientation-based strategies involving distance concepts and cardinal directions, whereas women tend to base their activities on remembering the location of landmarks and relative directions, such as 'left from', or 'to the right of'."

The different ways men and women mapped the world appeared to influence their perception of beauty, they believe.

While there are differences between people as to what is beautiful and what isn't, researcher Camilo J. Cela-Conde said they did not find identifiable differences related to sex.

"Any person can find beautiful a landscape, a building or a canvas that some others will find awful. But sex has little to do with those differences. Perhaps they relate with other variables, such as age or education," he said.