Describe made to measure spatial abilities. The test consisted

Describe and evaluate the evidence for sex related
differences in spatial abilities


There is much evidence focused on the
sex related differences found too effect spatial abilities. A great deal of debate
has been shown over whether or not there are sex differences in cognitive
abilities. However, the classic papers that I shall draw upon in this essay
demonstrate that these sex related differences truly to exist, specifically in
spatial abilities. Despite a few variabilities in findings of studies in this
field of Psychological research, the overall assumption is that males are
superior in their spatial abilities to females. I shall describe and evaluate
relative evidence such as Vandenburg and Kuse (1978) classic paper which shows
evidence of sex related differences in spatial abilities as well as multiple
other papers and meta-analyses, concluding that the differences in males and
females spatial abilities are apparent and consistent.

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Vandenberg and
Kuse (1978) conducted a new paper and pencil test of spatial visualisation
known as the Mental Rotation Test (MRT) which was made to measure spatial
abilities. The test consisted of 20 test items in total (5 sets of 4 items) of
which contained 1 criterion figure, 2 target figures and 3 distractor figures (1
mirror 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 in
order to measure 3D spatial visualisation. Table 3 in the paper shows means for
the men to be higher than that of the women concluding that men have better
spatial abilities than women. Vandenberg
and Kuse (1978) found a clear indication of a sex difference in 3D spatial
visualisation over a wide age range in favour of males and stated that they
were ‘large and consistent’. A strength of this study is that it has
high validity and reliability. The comparisons made of correlations to other
tests of spatial visualisation and verbal abilities in the four tables
presented in the classic paper meant that we knew that the test measured what
it meant to measure, thus being adequate evidence to state that there are sex
related differences in spatial abilities. The reliability of the test in the
study does measure spatial visualisation consistently, this is shown through
Kuder Richardson 20 (KR20). A reliability correlation of 0.88 as well as split
half reliability measuring the internal reliability and the reliability
coefficient of 0.79 are both very high and strong values, demonstrating how the
evidence is for this study is reliable.

Vandenberg and Kuse (1978)
stated that it was widely believed that men are better than women in spatial
abilities, stating a constant rate of mental rotation chronometry. However, I
would question this, as it explains men and women in general but not as
specific individuals. Therefore a weakness in my opinion would be that the
findings are not generalizable as every individual is different. We are
forgetting about environmental effects, which may lead to individual results
being 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 ones
working memory. In particular the visuo-spatial working memory, through holding
information active which may be the actual reason why males mental rotation is
better than females. Women and men use different strategies to solve tasks therefore
people have different strategies they use, consequently explaining why one
individual has better spatial ability than another. Both these things are not
measured implicitly but explicitly, they are important.


Additionally, Porteous
(1965) conducted an experiment establishing sex related differences of male
superiority in spatial abilities through showing that 99 out of 105 studies of
males scored higher than females on his test where participants had to draw
their way through line mazes. Porteous’s results undoubtedly show a male
superiority and significant sex related difference in special ability. Caplan, MacPherson and Tobin
(1985) wrote the article ‘Do sex-related differences in Spatial Abilities
Exist?’ in which measures spatial ability and then determines whether males or
females 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 have
regularly 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 than
those associated with verbal abilities. It can be found that men perform better
than women in spatial tasks such as geographical orientation, navigation
strategies and videogames (Dabs, Chang, Strong, & Milun, 1998 and Quaiser
Pohl, Geiser & Lechman (2006). The questions I shall address are how and
why are these sex-related differences found and what is the magnitude of these
differences if they truly do exist.


Indeed, there is
much evidence of sex related differences in spatial abilities but what is the
magnitude of these differences and why are they occurring? An important point
to stress is that for most of the evidence reported the differences both small
and according to Caplan (1985) not reliably and consistently reported. Some
would say there is no convincing evidence and therefore no sex related differences in this area of
Psychological research (Fairweather 1976). Vogel (1990) stated that when
reanalysing earlier research, findings showed that although differences in
spatial abilities were significant, the gender distinction is very small, accounting
for 1-5% of the population variance. Concluding that although there may be
reliable evidence for sex related differences in spatial abilities they are
very small. Bennet et al. proposes that there is an apparent sex
difference in spatial related skills but despite the evidence being reliable
and clear the difference only accounted for 2.5% of the variance; supporting
Vogel (1990) in that these sex related differences in spatial abilities to not
account for more than 1-5% of group variance. Considering the dramatic
differences in the ways in which different sexes are raised it is surprising
that the sex differences when found are such a small proportion of the


Insight of this,
the pushing question being asked has been why males are superior in spatial
abilities than females (Kinsbourne 1980). For I would question how do we know
that this 1-5% variance that Vogel (1990) claimed isn’t just down to
confounding factors for it could be more than adequately explained by
environmental differences. A weakness I believe of many of these classic papers
discussed in this essay, for example Vandenberg and Kuse’s (1978) is that they
fail to explain the reasons for these sex related differences and whether these
sex related differences are down to nature or nurture. Gender effects into cognitive
abilities specifically spatial abilities have been largely investigated and hypotheses
have been put forward in order to attempt to explain the evidence that the
papers discussed have shown, either focussing on biological factors such as
hormones (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 and
carried on the X chromosome and that therefore certain correlations between
parent and child should be present when measuring spatial ability such as
mother and son correlation should be higher than mother and daughter and that
there should be no father son correlation. Critically, this theory has been said
to be controversial and questionable due to Stafford who conducted a study into
this used 10 different measures of spatial ability yet only one produced the
pattern predicted. I believe also that the sample sizes were insufficient in
enabling the null hypothesis of the studies correlations to be rejected. Alternatively,
McGlove asserted that there is evidence for males being more lateralised than
females leading too males showing a higher performance in spatial tasks than
females. Levy (1990) claimed that a spatial perceptive deficit in women is a
sex linked and genetically determined which can result from hemispheres being
less well laterally specialised than males. Brain lateralisation and the
genetic theories are based on the assumption that performance on spatial tasks
reflects an underlying predetermined pattern of sex differences.


other evidence for spatial abilities is found in research conducted to see
whether the found sex related differences magnitude is constant over a lifespan.
Like Vandenburg and Kuse and other researchers discussed, Geiser used the
mental rotation test. Men are declared to have more experience with activities in
spatial cognition thus have an advantage in mental rotation performance. This
can be therefore attributed to environmental factors. E.g computer games which have
been found to make a difference in mental rotation due to males playing more
computer games than females (Quaiser-Pohl, Geiser & Lehmann). Effects of differential
experience with environmental spatial asks are more likely to increase as
individuals grow older which may lead to an increase in the differences found
for mental rotation tasks. It was one of the first studies of sex differences
in mental rotation of children under 13 and it showed that the sex differences
appeared to be robust by the age of 9 already. The emergence is not due to the
onset of puberty of which has been previously suggested but depends on other
early on developmental factors. The conclusion of the study shows that sex
differences in 3D mental rotation are robust over the ages of 9-23. They
support the point that sex differences in mental rotation comes larger as
individuals grow older.


Finally, I believe
most evidence of sex-related differences in spatial abilities are consistent
however lack reliability due to some researchers reporting sex related
differences in spatial abilities and others not. I believe this to be down to a
lack of consensus over the definition of spatial abilities. Defining spatial
ability has not been adequately finished. Due to this testing a theory where
sex differences are predicted is merely impossible, specifically theories such
as brain lateralisation, genetics and hormonal theories due to the amount of
precision needed to occur In order for it to be accepted. For the classic papers
which I have mentioned have used different tests of spatial ability and therefore
this makes it difficult to follow the line of research in the way that the steps
of the Scientific Method for psychology is supposed to.


conclude I believe that the sex differences are small but reliable. However
think that the evidence presented by these classic papers aforementioned are
problematic due to them all being based on a one test approach. Therefore I
propose that a better way of looking at the evidence of the found sex related
differences in spatial abilities is to agree and believe that they are there
and that males are superior in spatial tasks than females and instead to ask
the question of why they are superior. As most classic papers into this field
of Psychology only focus on trying to determine whether there are differences
and not providing evidence of why they occur. I also would suggest that maybe
these sex differences are evident because of our brains being wired
differently. To investigate this, I would propose a study to be done where both
genders undergo spatial tasks whilst under a fMRI or other brain imaging form
to see the brain processes and areas activated in the brains to see if there
are any differences in the highlighted area of the male and female brain.