GENDER DIFFERENCES IN VISUAL-SPATIAL ABILITY

Margaret M. Kern






Key Words: GENDER DIFFERENCES, VISUAL-SPATIAL TASKS, OBJECT MEMORY, HUNTER-GATHERER THEORY
 
 


ABSTRACT


    The purpose of the present research was to determine whether or not there were gender differences on two tasks of visual-spatial ability. Past research has revealed that men score better on some visual-spatial tasks but women have been shown to score better on a test of object memory. Thirty-four undergraduates from a small liberal arts college in the Northeast completed a paper and pencil task for object memory developed by Silverman and Eals (1992). This task was known to have higher performance scores for females over males. Participants also completed a desk set-up task for object memory, in order to see if the outperformance of females over males would carry from a paper and pencil task to a real world task of the same nature. An independent t-test did not support the previous finding of higher performance scores for females on the paper and pencil task. Additionally, a Pearson's correlation did not reveal significant gender differences on thereal world task. The findings of the study also suggest that there was not much similarity between the paper and pencil task and the desk set-up task, meaning that the two tasks did not test the same visual-spatial skills in males and females.
 
 

Results

     The means of the scores on the paper and pencil task and the desk set-up task were calculated for each gender. Males and females scored high on both the paper and pencil task and the desk set-up task. Females had a mean of 23.25, while males scored a mean of 21.11 on the paper and pencil task. On the desk set-up task, females scored a mean of 11.38, while males scored a mean of 11.83.
     An independent t-test was conducted for gender differences on the two tasks.  No gender differences to the p<0.05 were found on the paper and pencil task t(32)= -1.16, p=0.25. No gender differences were found on the desk set-up task as well t(32)= 0.42, p=0.68.
     To examine validity of the two tasks, a Pearson's correlation between the paper and pencil task and the desk set-up, and within each of the two gender groups were conducted. No overall correlation to the p<0.05 between the two tasks was observed (p=0.67). No correlation was found on the two tasks within each gender group. The results of the male performance on the two tasks (p=0.58) and the results of the female performance (p=0.87), were not significant.


Discussion


    As revealed by the t-test, no significant sex differences were found in favor of male or female performance on the paper and pencil or the desk set-up tasks. Both males and females scored high on each task, thus significant differences between the two were impossible. There was no significant correlation found between the two tasks themselves, showing that they were in fact two different tasks. Therefore, the study had some lack of validity in that the desk set-up task developed for the study perhaps was not measuring object memory.
    Results of this study were not supportive of the results of previous studies. For example, Amponsah and Krekling (1997), found that males perform significantly better than females on several tasks requiring spatial skill. These skills included mental rotations, and mapreading.  Silverman and Eals' (1992), study confirmed that females performed better on spatial tasks pertaining to object location and object memory, primarily on the paper and pencil task for object memory. However, in the present study males and females scored at around the same level on this task. Both gender groups also scored at around the same level on the desk set-up task as well.
    The hunter-gatherer theory Silverman and Eals based their research on supports the idea that as humans evolved, gender differences were defined depending upon the activities they were responsible for. Therefore, men developed different spatial skills from hunting animals from those the women developed from gathering food plants. The results of their study led me to believe females would subsequently have a higher performance score on a real-world task similar to the paper and pencil task. However, the results of the present study were non-supportive of my hypothesis, leading me to speculate that the two tasks were not of the same nature. It also led me to speculate that the desk set-up task was not actually testing object memory at all, or in the same manner as the paper and pencil task did.
    The paper and pencil task and the desk set-up task appear not to be of the same nature based on the results of the present study. The performance by both males and females was similar, and interesting enough, both performed relatively well on the task. Although existing research has shown females to outperform males, there are factors that could attribute to the non-significance found for the real-world task. The objects located on the desk, such as the binders, picture frames, tissue boxes, and disks, were objects males and females, especially college students, are conditioned to seeing together on an everyday basis, in such places as their dorm rooms, in a classroom, or even if they have a job or an internship. Because both gender groups are used to seeing these objects, there was no gender bias, and they may have recognized the placement of the objects from where they themselves keep things. In contrast, the objects on the paper and pencil task, such as the umbrella, elephant, and teddy bear, are drawings of objects not commonly seen, especially together.
    Further research on this topic of gender differences on visual-spatial tasks could possibly conclude findings similar to those of Silverman and Eals. If the study is repeated, results should show female's tendency to outperform males on the paper and pencil task. Based on the theories of evolution, females should outperform males on a real-world task of the object-memory nature as well. However, this real-world task would have to be developed in such a manner that it would look at object memory in the same way that the paper and pencil task does.