Describe and evaluate the evidence for sex relateddifferences in spatial abilities There is much evidence focused on thesex related differences found too effect spatial abilities. A great deal of debatehas been shown over whether or not there are sex differences in cognitiveabilities. However, the classic papers that I shall draw upon in this essaydemonstrate that these sex related differences truly to exist, specifically inspatial abilities. Despite a few variabilities in findings of studies in thisfield of Psychological research, the overall assumption is that males aresuperior in their spatial abilities to females. I shall describe and evaluaterelative evidence such as Vandenburg and Kuse (1978) classic paper which showsevidence of sex related differences in spatial abilities as well as multipleother papers and meta-analyses, concluding that the differences in males andfemales spatial abilities are apparent and consistent. Vandenberg andKuse (1978) conducted a new paper and pencil test of spatial visualisationknown as the Mental Rotation Test (MRT) which was made to measure spatialabilities. The test consisted of 20 test items in total (5 sets of 4 items) ofwhich contained 1 criterion figure, 2 target figures and 3 distractor figures (1mirror image of the criterion and 1 rotated criterion from a different item),the figures taken from the Chronometric study by Shepard and Metzler (1971).
The task that the participants underwent was to identify the two targets inorder to measure 3D spatial visualisation. Table 3 in the paper shows means forthe men to be higher than that of the women concluding that men have betterspatial abilities than women. Vandenbergand Kuse (1978) found a clear indication of a sex difference in 3D spatialvisualisation over a wide age range in favour of males and stated that theywere ‘large and consistent’. A strength of this study is that it hashigh validity and reliability.
The comparisons made of correlations to othertests of spatial visualisation and verbal abilities in the four tablespresented in the classic paper meant that we knew that the test measured whatit meant to measure, thus being adequate evidence to state that there are sexrelated differences in spatial abilities. The reliability of the test in thestudy does measure spatial visualisation consistently, this is shown throughKuder Richardson 20 (KR20). A reliability correlation of 0.88 as well as splithalf reliability measuring the internal reliability and the reliabilitycoefficient of 0.79 are both very high and strong values, demonstrating how theevidence is for this study is reliable.
Vandenberg and Kuse (1978)stated that it was widely believed that men are better than women in spatialabilities, stating a constant rate of mental rotation chronometry. However, Iwould question this, as it explains men and women in general but not asspecific individuals. Therefore a weakness in my opinion would be that thefindings are not generalizable as every individual is different. We areforgetting about environmental effects, which may lead to individual resultsbeing different.
We need to look at individual cases in order to overcome this.It may be that other factors are effecting the spatial ability such as onesworking memory. In particular the visuo-spatial working memory, through holdinginformation active which may be the actual reason why males mental rotation isbetter than females.
Women and men use different strategies to solve tasks thereforepeople have different strategies they use, consequently explaining why oneindividual has better spatial ability than another. Both these things are notmeasured implicitly but explicitly, they are important. Additionally, Porteous(1965) conducted an experiment establishing sex related differences of malesuperiority in spatial abilities through showing that 99 out of 105 studies ofmales scored higher than females on his test where participants had to drawtheir way through line mazes. Porteous’s results undoubtedly show a malesuperiority and significant sex related difference in special ability. Caplan, MacPherson and Tobin(1985) wrote the article ‘Do sex-related differences in Spatial AbilitiesExist?’ in which measures spatial ability and then determines whether males orfemales perform differently of which classic papers such as Vandenberg and Kuse(1978), Shepard and Metzler (1971) and Porteous (1965) do not do. Men and women haveregularly been reported to have three major differences in cognitive abilities;higher verbal abilities favouring women (Burton, Henninger & Hafetz, 2005),and higher spatial abilities and higher arithmetical abilities favouring men. Furthermore,gender disparities related to spatial abilities have been reported more thanthose associated with verbal abilities. It can be found that men perform betterthan women in spatial tasks such as geographical orientation, navigationstrategies and videogames (Dabs, Chang, Strong, & Milun, 1998 and QuaiserPohl, Geiser & Lechman (2006).
The questions I shall address are how andwhy are these sex-related differences found and what is the magnitude of thesedifferences if they truly do exist. Indeed, there ismuch evidence of sex related differences in spatial abilities but what is themagnitude of these differences and why are they occurring? An important pointto stress is that for most of the evidence reported the differences both smalland according to Caplan (1985) not reliably and consistently reported. Somewould say there is no convincing evidence and therefore no sex related differences in this area ofPsychological research (Fairweather 1976). Vogel (1990) stated that whenreanalysing earlier research, findings showed that although differences inspatial abilities were significant, the gender distinction is very small, accountingfor 1-5% of the population variance.
Concluding that although there may bereliable evidence for sex related differences in spatial abilities they arevery small. Bennet et al. proposes that there is an apparent sexdifference in spatial related skills but despite the evidence being reliableand clear the difference only accounted for 2.5% of the variance; supportingVogel (1990) in that these sex related differences in spatial abilities to notaccount for more than 1-5% of group variance. Considering the dramaticdifferences in the ways in which different sexes are raised it is surprisingthat the sex differences when found are such a small proportion of thevariance. Insight of this,the pushing question being asked has been why males are superior in spatialabilities than females (Kinsbourne 1980).
For I would question how do we knowthat this 1-5% variance that Vogel (1990) claimed isn’t just down toconfounding factors for it could be more than adequately explained byenvironmental differences. A weakness I believe of many of these classic papersdiscussed in this essay, for example Vandenberg and Kuse’s (1978) is that theyfail to explain the reasons for these sex related differences and whether thesesex related differences are down to nature or nurture. Gender effects into cognitiveabilities specifically spatial abilities have been largely investigated and hypotheseshave been put forward in order to attempt to explain the evidence that thepapers discussed have shown, either focussing on biological factors such ashormones (Broverman 1998), genetic influences (Dawson 1972 or Harris 1978),brain lateralisation (Levy 1970), or sociocultural factors.
Moreover, Harris(1978) proposed O’Conners Model asserting that spatial ability is recessive andcarried on the X chromosome and that therefore certain correlations betweenparent and child should be present when measuring spatial ability such asmother and son correlation should be higher than mother and daughter and thatthere should be no father son correlation. Critically, this theory has been saidto be controversial and questionable due to Stafford who conducted a study intothis used 10 different measures of spatial ability yet only one produced thepattern predicted. I believe also that the sample sizes were insufficient inenabling the null hypothesis of the studies correlations to be rejected. Alternatively,McGlove asserted that there is evidence for males being more lateralised thanfemales leading too males showing a higher performance in spatial tasks thanfemales. Levy (1990) claimed that a spatial perceptive deficit in women is asex linked and genetically determined which can result from hemispheres beingless well laterally specialised than males. Brain lateralisation and thegenetic theories are based on the assumption that performance on spatial tasksreflects an underlying predetermined pattern of sex differences. Furthermore,other evidence for spatial abilities is found in research conducted to seewhether the found sex related differences magnitude is constant over a lifespan.
Like Vandenburg and Kuse and other researchers discussed, Geiser used themental rotation test. Men are declared to have more experience with activities inspatial cognition thus have an advantage in mental rotation performance. Thiscan be therefore attributed to environmental factors. E.g computer games which havebeen found to make a difference in mental rotation due to males playing morecomputer games than females (Quaiser-Pohl, Geiser & Lehmann). Effects of differentialexperience with environmental spatial asks are more likely to increase asindividuals grow older which may lead to an increase in the differences foundfor mental rotation tasks. It was one of the first studies of sex differencesin mental rotation of children under 13 and it showed that the sex differencesappeared to be robust by the age of 9 already.
The emergence is not due to theonset of puberty of which has been previously suggested but depends on otherearly on developmental factors. The conclusion of the study shows that sexdifferences in 3D mental rotation are robust over the ages of 9-23. Theysupport the point that sex differences in mental rotation comes larger asindividuals grow older.
Finally, I believemost evidence of sex-related differences in spatial abilities are consistenthowever lack reliability due to some researchers reporting sex relateddifferences in spatial abilities and others not. I believe this to be down to alack of consensus over the definition of spatial abilities. Defining spatialability has not been adequately finished. Due to this testing a theory wheresex differences are predicted is merely impossible, specifically theories suchas brain lateralisation, genetics and hormonal theories due to the amount ofprecision needed to occur In order for it to be accepted. For the classic paperswhich I have mentioned have used different tests of spatial ability and thereforethis makes it difficult to follow the line of research in the way that the stepsof the Scientific Method for psychology is supposed to.
Toconclude I believe that the sex differences are small but reliable. Howeverthink that the evidence presented by these classic papers aforementioned areproblematic due to them all being based on a one test approach. Therefore Ipropose that a better way of looking at the evidence of the found sex relateddifferences in spatial abilities is to agree and believe that they are thereand that males are superior in spatial tasks than females and instead to askthe question of why they are superior.
As most classic papers into this fieldof Psychology only focus on trying to determine whether there are differencesand not providing evidence of why they occur. I also would suggest that maybethese sex differences are evident because of our brains being wireddifferently. To investigate this, I would propose a study to be done where bothgenders undergo spatial tasks whilst under a fMRI or other brain imaging formto see the brain processes and areas activated in the brains to see if thereare any differences in the highlighted area of the male and female brain.