Original Article

Sex Roles

, Volume 68, Issue 9, pp 521-535

First online:

Gender-Role Differences in Spatial Ability: A Meta-Analytic Review

  • David ReillyAffiliated withSchool of Applied Psychology, Griffith University Email author 
  • , David L. NeumannAffiliated withSchool of Applied Psychology, Griffith UniversityBehavioural Basis of Health Program, Griffith Health Institute

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Although gender-related differences in highly gender typed cognitive abilities are of considerable interest to educators and cognitive researchers alike, relatively little progress has been made in understanding the psychological processes that lead to them. Nash (1979) proposed a gender-role mediation hypothesis for such differences, with particular emphasis on spatial ability. However, changes in gender equality and gender stereotypes in the decades since merit a re-examination of whether a gender-role association still holds (Feingold 1988). A meta-analysis of 12 studies that examined gender-role identity and mental rotation performance was conducted. These included studies from the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, Croatia, and the United States of America. The mean effect size for masculinity was r = .30 for men and r = .23 for women; no association was found between femininity and mental rotation. This effect size was slightly larger than that found previously by Signorella and Jamison (1986), and exceeds many other factors known to influence spatial ability. The implications of gender-role mediation of gender differences are discussed and future research directions are identified.


Gender differences Spatial ability Gender-role mediation Gender roles Mental rotation Meta-analysis