, Volume 20, Issue 5-6, pp 327-344

The role of experience in spatial test performance: A meta-analysis

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The hypothesis that spatial ability is, in part, experientially determined, and that sex differences in spatial ability can be explained by sex differences in spatial experience, can be studied in a correlational manner by examining the relationship between spatial activity participation and spatial ability test performance for males and females. Alternatively, an experimental training situation, comparing male and female susceptibility to training, has been proposed to test the hypothesis that environment has an impact on spatial skills and sex differences in ability. Both lines of research are reviewed here, through the use of meta-analytic techniques. The first meta-analysis reveals a weak but reliable relationship between spatial activity participation and spatial ability. This relationship appears similar for males and females. The second meta-analysis reveals that spatial ability test performance can be improved by training for both sexes. This improvement does not appear different for males and females, however, contrary to a predominant hypothesis in the literature. Training to asymptote may be a better test of the relevance of differential experience to sex differences. Content and duration of training are also discussed as important factors in the effectiveness of training.

This research was supported by Grant No. MH39671 from the National Institute of Mental Health. A version of this paper was presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Baltimore, Maryland, April 1987. We are grateful to Margaret Signorella and Susan Resnick for providing data. We would also like to thank Judith Dubas, Susan Resnick, Ralph Rosnow, Carolyn Spies, Lance Weinmann, and Marsha Weinraub for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.