Visual-spatial ability & sex

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

More obviously non-controversial research on cognition and sex differences, Differences in cue use and spatial memory in men and women:

Men and women differ in their ability to solve spatial problems. There are two possible proximate explanations for this: (i) men and women differ in the kind (and value) of information they use and/or (ii) their cognitive abilities differ with respect to spatial problems. Using a simple computerized task which could be solved either by choosing an object based on what it looked like, or by its location, we found that the women relied on the object’s visual features to solve the task, while the men used both visual and location information. There were no differences between the sexes in memory for the visual features of the objects, but women were poorer than men at remembering the locations of objects.

Science is like a box of chocolates, you don’t get to know the details until you start rooting through it. Major tables with p values below the fold.

“Although the men tested tended to be older than the women (one-way ANOVA: F1,45=2.94, p=0.09) and the two experimenters tested subjects of significantly different ages (F1,45=9.24, p=0.004; experimenter A’s subjects: mean, 22.44 years; range, 21-24; experimenter B’s subjects: mean, 21.41 years; range, 20-24), age was not correlated with performance on either task (controlling for sex and experimenter; feature: F1,43=1.36, p=0.25; location: F1,43=0.45, p=0.50). Therefore, the observed differences in performance between the men and women on the location task is unlikely to have been due to differences in their ages.”

“One-sample t-tests were used to determine whether the number of times that the men and women chose the new location on the probe trials differed from random (i.e. a score of three). The choices of the men did not differ from random (n=20, t=0.42, p=0.68), but those of the women did (n=20, t=-3.33, p=0.004). Women chose the new location significantly less often than would be expected if they were making choices at random.”


  1. I have loved maps since childhood. I have occasionally (not too often) encountered men who share it – never, to my knowledge, women.

  2. a mapophile here.

  3. Me too! 
    As young as 3 yo I was fascinated by maps, and have 6 framed maps as art in my home! I particularly like reproductions of old maps, so have one of the empire of Charlemagne in French, one late medieval world map in Italian, and some modern National Geographic maps of world languages and population densities.

  4. Maps rock, although I guess I’m half-girlie in my love of them: I tend to love maps that are less like electronic-circuit diagrams and that have more visual cues. 
    There’s an interesting bit of on-the-ground culture folklore that seems related. Where the creating of narrative (ie., scripts, novels, stories, etc) is concerned, guy writers tend to be at the strongest in the construction of action and structures, where chix tend to be stronger and anecdote and character. Gal writers really live their characters and situations, where guy riders like building amusement-park rides. Huge generalization, but it’s amazing how often it holds. So maybe guys tend to like diagrams, where girls tend to like “human” elements and qualities that they can hang their emotions on. Or something like that.

  5. Girls read maps by turning them around.

  6. I’m not much of a mapophile, but most guys enjoy that sort of detail enough so that video game designers make sure to include plenty of that detail in their games marketed especially toward boys, like the fantasy swordsman games (Zelda, Castlevania) or the first-person shooters (Doom, Goldeneye). Not just the crude maps you use to check where you are, but the background scenery / landmarks as well — no boy would play a video game that didn’t have great design in that department. Also taps into to young boys’ penchant for building forts out of anything — couch cushions, large cardboard boxes, etc. 
    That’s how you get boys interested in aesthetics and design: frame it w/in the context of fighting, exploring, defending, etc., not marvelling at nature’s beauty or imagining the architectural layout of your wedding ceremony.

  7. bioIgnoramus says: 
    Girls read maps by turning them around. 
    Ha! The way my wife read street directories used to annoy me greatly. She had to turn the directory around to make it conform with the direction we were travelling on the particular street we were on.

  8. Ehm, guys, what’s wrong with turning the map to conform with your direction? Doesn’t it save you at least one rotation if you have other turns and twists to figure out? 
    This is like those language wars between coders. For instance, if you can’t deal with C, you’re a sissy – or something like that. Well, heck, I can deal with it alright, but why waste my limited brains for handling the low-level details – which, with a more elegant language like e.g. Eiffel or Haskell, I can program the compiler to deal with – while I deal with the so-called “problem domain”? And if you’re smarter than me, wouldn’t that give you even more of an advantage?

  9. On a different note, where do visio-spatial sissies find material to test/study/improve their miserable visio-spatial state?

  10. what’s wrong with turning the map to conform with your direction 
    Nothing *wrong* with it, but if the mental rotation of the orientation is second nature, it’s easiest to keep it upright (text oriented the regular way). I can read text upside down too but it’s harder than rotating the map’s frame of reference to match surroundings, which is trivial for me. Even the physical act of turning a floppy map may be harder than the transform, which I perceive as a one-time event rather than an ongoing effort… 
    My wife also will often rotate the map to match physical orientation, and I’ve seen her make mistakes (left/right confusion) when this is not done.