, Volume 31, Issue 7, pp 1136-1145

Does men’s advantage in mental rotation persist when real three-dimensional objects are either felt or seen?


In several spatial tasks in which men outperform women in the processing of visual input, the sex difference has been eliminated in matching contexts limited to haptic input. The present experiment tested whether such contrasting results would be reproduced in a mental rotation task. A standard visual condition involved two-dimensional illustrations of three-dimensional stimuli; in a haptic condition, three-dimensional replicas of these stimuli were only felt; in an additional visual condition, these replicas were seen. The results indicated that, irrespective of condition, men’s response times were shorter than women’s, although accuracy did not significantly differ according to sex. For both men and women, response times were shorter and accuracy was higher in the standard condition than in the haptic one, the best performances being recorded when full replicas were shown. Self-reported solving strategies also varied as a function of sex and condition. The discussion emphasizes the robustness of men’s faster speed in mental rotation. With respect to both speed and accuracy, the demanding sequential processing called for in the haptic setting, relative to the standard condition, is underscored, as is the benefit resulting from easier access to depth cues in the visual context with real three-dimensional objects.

A preliminary version of this report was presented at the meeting of the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science, Quebec City, June 2001. This study was supported by Grant 2602 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to the first author. The report is based on a thesis by the second author in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the master’s degree at the Université de Montréal. During her master’s studies, the second author was supported by a scholarship from the Université de Montréal.