Psychological Studies

, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 411–419 | Cite as

New Evidence for Gender Differences in Performing the Corsi Test but Not the Digit Span: Data from 208 Individuals

  • Laura PiccardiEmail author
  • Giovanni D’Antuono
  • Dario Marin
  • Maddalena Boccia
  • Paola Ciurli
  • Chiara Incoccia
  • Gabriella Antonucci
  • Paola Verde
  • Cecilia Guariglia
Research in Progress


We investigated whether the gender differences in working memory are linked to the nature of the stimuli (verbal vs. visuo-spatial) or to the type of processing (active vs. passive). With this aim, we administered two well-known tests: Corsi Block-tapping test (CBT) and the Digit span (DS) using two versions: forward (fCBT and fDS) and backward (bCBT and bDS). During the forward processing (fCBT and fDS), subjects being required to repeat stimuli in the same order they are presented, passive working memory is assessed. Otherwise, during the backward processing (bCBT and bDS), subjects being required repeating stimuli in an order opposite to that of presentation, active working memory is assessed. A total of 208 college students (104 women) were assessed. We found a gender effect on fCBT and bCBT, but not on fDS and bDS, with men outperforming women. The results from the present study support previous findings in which the presence of gender differences emerged in visuo-spatial working memory, that is, when verbal encoding is less efficacious with respect to other strategies. Failing in finding the opposite trend in fDS and bDS, that is, women performing better than men on these tasks, previously documented, may be due to the fact that we selected a sample of young subjects with the same educational level. Indeed, gender differences in verbal working memory have been reported especially for low level of education. Furthermore, our results suggest that such differences are more related to the type of material (verbal vs. visuo-spatial) more than to the type of processing (active vs. passive). This last finding supports the idea that when age and educational level are well matched among sexes, differences due to the stimuli processing disappear.


Sex differences Visuo-spatial working memory Corsi Block-tapping test Verbal working memory Short-term memory 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Baddeley, A. (1994). Working memory: The interface between memory and cognition. In D. L. Schacter & E. Tulving (Eds.), Memory systems 1994 (pp. 351–367). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Berch, D. B., Krikorian, R., & Huha, E. M. (1998). The Corsi block-tapping task: Methodological and theoretical considerations. Brain and Cognition,38, 317–338.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bianchini, F., Verde, P., Colangeli, S., Boccia, M., Strollo, F., Guariglia, C., & Piccardi, L. (2018). Effects of oral contraceptives and natural menstrual cycling on environmental learning. BMC Women’s Health,18, 179. Scholar
  5. Capitani, E., Laiacona, M., & Ciceri, E. (1991). Sex differences in spatial memory: Are analysis of block tapping long-term memory according to short-term memory level? Italian Journal of Neurological Sciences,12, 461–466.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Casey, P. (2000). A longitudinal study of cognitive performance during pregnancy and new motherhood. Archives of Women’s Mental Health,3, 65–76.Google Scholar
  7. Cattaneo, Z., Postma, A., & Vecchi, T. (2006). Gender differences in memory for object and word locations. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,59, 904–919.Google Scholar
  8. Cherrier, M. M., Asthana, S., Plymate, S., Baker, L., Matsumoto, A. M., Peskind, E., et al. (2001). Testosterone supplementation improves spatial and verbal memory in healthy older men. Neurology,57, 80–88. Scholar
  9. Chrisler, J. C., & McCreary, D. R. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of gender research in psychology, vol 1: gender research in general and experimental psychology (pp. 317–341). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  10. Christie, G. J., Cook, C. M., Ward, B. J., Tata, M. S., Sutherland, J., Sutherland, R. J., & Saucier, D. M. (2013). Mental rotational ability is correlated with spatial but not verbal working memory performance and P300 amplitude in males. PLoS ONE,8(2), e57390.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Clements, A. M., Rimrodt, S. L., Abel, J. R., Blankner, J. G., Mostofsky, S. H., Pekar, J. J., & Cutting, L. E. (2006). Sex differences in cerebral laterality of language and visuospatial processing. Brain Language,98, 150–158.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Coluccia, E., & Louse, G. (2004). Gender differences in spatial orientation: A review. Journal of Environmental Psychology,24, 329–340.Google Scholar
  13. Corsi, P. M. (1972). Human memory and the medial temporal region of the brain. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec.Google Scholar
  14. Crook, T., Bartus, R. T., Ferris, S. H., Whitehouse, P., Cohen, G. D., & Gershon, S. (1986). Age-associated memory impairment: Proposed diagnostic criteria and measures of clinical change. Report of a National Institute of Mental Health work group. Developmental Neuropsychology,2, 261–276.Google Scholar
  15. D’Esposito, M. (2007). From cognitive to neural models of working memory. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B,362, 761–772.Google Scholar
  16. de Frias, C., Nilsson, L.-G., & Herlitz, A. (2006). Sex differences in cognition are stable over a 10-year period in adulthood and old age. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition,13, 574–587.Google Scholar
  17. Driscoll, I., Hamilton, D. A., Yeo, R. A., Brooks, W. M., & Sutherland, R. (2005). Virtual navigation in humans: The impact of age, sex, and hormones on place learning. Hormones and Behavior,47, 326–335.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Duff, S. J., & Hampson, E. (2000). A beneficial effect of estrogen on working memory in postmenopausal women taking hormone replacement therapy. Hormones and Behavior,38, 262–276. Scholar
  19. Duff, S., & Hampson, E. (2001). A sex difference on a novel spatial working memory task in humans. Brain and Cognition,47, 470–493.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Farrell Pagulayan, K., Busch, R. M., Medina, K. L., Bartok, J. A., & Krikorian, R. (2006). Developmental normative data for the Corsi Block-Tapping Task. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology,28, 1043–1052.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Goldman-Rakic, P. S. (1987). Circuitry of primate prefrontal cortex and regulation of behavior by representational memory. In F. Plum & V. Mountcastle (Eds.), Handbook of physiology—The nervous system V (pp. 373–417). Bethesda: Waverly Press.Google Scholar
  22. Grön, G., Wunderlich, A. P., Spitzer, M., Tomczak, R., & Riepe, M. W. (2000). Brain activation during human navigation: Gender-different neural networks as substrate of performance. Nature Neuroscience,3, 404–408.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Gur, R. C., Alsop, D., Glahn, D., Petty, R., Swanson, C. L., Maldjian, J. A., & Gur, R. E. (2000). An fMRI study of sex differences in regional activation to a verbal and a spatial task. Brain Language,74, 157–170.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Halpern, D. F. (2000). Sex differences in cognitive abilities. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence.Google Scholar
  25. Hampson, E. (1990a). Estrogen-related variations in human spatial and articulatory-motor skills. Psychoneuroendocrinology,15, 97–111.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Hampson, E. (1990b). Variations in sex-related cognitive abilities across the menstrual cycle. Brain and Cognition,14, 26–43.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Hampson, E., & Kimura, D. (1988). Reciprocal effects of hormonal fluctuations on human motor and perceptual-spatial skills. Behavioral Neuroscience,102, 456–459.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Hausmann, M. (2003). Age-related changes in hemispheric asymmetry depend on sex. Laterality: Asymmetries of body, brain and cognition,8, 277–290.Google Scholar
  29. Henry, J. D., & Rendell, P. G. (2007). A review of the impact of pregnancy on memory function. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology,28, 793–803.Google Scholar
  30. Herlitz, A., & Rehnman, A. J. (2008). Sex differences in episodic memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science,17, 52–56.Google Scholar
  31. Hogervorst, E. (2013). Effects of gonadal hormones on cognitive behaviour in elderly men and women. Journal of Neuroendocrinology,25, 1182–1195.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist,60, 581–592.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Hyde, J. S. (2014). Gender similarities and differences. Annual Review of Psychology,65, 373–398. Scholar
  34. Hyde, J., & Linn, M. (1988). Gender differences in verbal ability: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin,104, 53–69.Google Scholar
  35. Janes, C., Casey, P., Huntsdale, C., & Angus, G. I. (1999). Memory in pregnancy: Subjective experiences and objective assessment of implicit, explicit, and working memory in primigravid and primiparous women. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology,1999(20), 80–87.Google Scholar
  36. Kaufman, S. B. (2007). Sex differences in mental rotation and spatial visualization ability: Can they be accounted for by differences in working memory capacity? Intelligence,35(3), 211–223. Scholar
  37. Kimura, D. (1996). Sex, sexual orientation and sex hormones influence human cognitive function. Current Opinion in Neurobiology,6, 259–263.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Kimura, D. (1999). Sex and cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  39. Kimura, D., & Harshman, R. A. (1984). Sex differences in brain organization for verbal and non-verbal functions. Progress in Brain Research,61, 423–441.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Lawton, C. A. (2010). Gender, spatial abilities, and wayfinding. In J. Chrisler & D. McCreary (Eds.), Handbook of gender research in psychology. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  41. Lejback, L., Crossley, M., & Vrbancic, M. (2011). A male advantage for spatial and object but not verbal working memory using the n-back task. Brain and Cognition,76, 191–196.Google Scholar
  42. Lejbak, L., Vrbancic, M., & Crossley, M. (2009). The female advantage in object location memory is robust to verbalizability and mode of presentation of test stimuli. Brain and Cognition,69, 148–153.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Lewin, C., Wolgers, G., & Herlitz, A. (2001). Sex differences favoring women in verbal but not in visuo-spatial episodic memory. Neuropsychology,15, 165–173.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Loring-Meier, S., & Halpern, D. F. (1999). Sex differences in visuospatial working memory: Components of cognitive processing. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,6, 464–471.Google Scholar
  45. Lynn, R., & Irwing, P. (2008). Sex differences in mental arithmetic, digit span, and g defined as working memory capacity. Intelligence,36, 226–235.Google Scholar
  46. Maeda, Y., & Yoon, S. Y. (2013). A meta-analysis on gender differences in mental rotation ability measured by the Purdue spatial visualization tests: Visualization of rotations (PSVT: R). Educational Psychology Review,25, 69–94. Scholar
  47. Maitland, S. B., Herlitz, A., Nyberg, L., Backman, L., & Nilsson, L. G. (2004). Selective sex differences in declarative memory. Memory and Cognition,32, 1160–1169.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Moody, M. S. (1997). Changes in scores on the mental rotations test during the menstrual cycle. Perceptual and Motor Skills,84, 955–961.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Morris, R. G., Gick, M. L., & Craik, F. I. M. (1988). Processing resources and age differences in working memory. Memory and Cognition,16, 362–366.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Nichelli, F., Bulgheroni, S., & Riva, D. (2001). Developmental patterns of verbal and visuospatial spans. Neurological Sciences,22, 377–384.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Norman, M. A., Evans, J. D., Miller, W. S., & Heaton, R. K. (2000). Demographically corrected norms for the California Verbal Learning Test. Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology,22, 80–94.Google Scholar
  52. Orsini, A., Grossi, D., Capitani, E., Laiacona, M., Papagno, C., & Vallar, G. (1987). Verbal and spatial immediate memory span: Normative data from 1355 adults and 1112 children. Italian Journal of Neurological Sciences,8, 539–548.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Orsini, A., Schiappa, O., & Grossi, D. (1981). Sex and cultural differences in children’s spatial and verbal memory span. Perceptual and Motor Skills,53, 39–42.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Orsini, A., Simonetta, S., & Marmorato, M. S. (2004). Corsi’s Block-tapping test: Some characteristics of the spatial path which influence memory. Perceptual and Motor Skills,98, 382–388.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Palermo, L., Cinelli, M. C., Piccardi, L., Ciurli, P., Incoccia, C., Zompanti, L., & Guariglia, C. (2016). Women outperform men in remembering to remember. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,69, 65–74.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Piccardi, L., Bianchini, F., Argento, O., De Nigris, A., Maialetti, A., Palermo, L., & Guariglia, C. (2013). The Walking Corsi Test (WalCT): Standardization of topographical memory test in an Italian population. Neurological Sciences,34, 971–978.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Piccardi, L., Bianchini, F., Nori, R., Marano, A., Iachini, F., Lasala, L., & Guariglia, C. (2014b). Spatial location and pathway memory compared in the reaching vs. walking domains. Neuroscience Letters,566, 226–230.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Piccardi, L., Palermo, L., Leonzi, M., Risetti, M., Zompanti, L., D’Amico, S., & Guariglia, C. (2014). The Walking Corsi Test (WalCT): A Normative Study of Topographical Working Memory in a Sample of 4- to 11-Year-Olds. The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 28(1), 84–96.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Piccardi, L., Iaria, G., Ricci, M., Bianchini, F., Zompanti, L., & Guariglia, C. (2008). Walking in the Corsi test: Which type of memory do you need? Neuroscience Letters,432, 127–131.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Piccardi, L., Matano, A., D’Antuono, G., Marin, D., Ciurli, P., Incoccia, C., & Guariglia, P. (2016). Persistence of gender-related effects on visuo-spatial and verbal working memory in right brain-damaged patients. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience,10, 139. Scholar
  61. Piccardi, L., Nori, R., Boccia, M., Barbetti, S., Verde, P., Guariglia, C., & Ferlazzo, F. (2015). A dedicated system for topographical working memory: Evidence from domain-specific interference tests. Experimental Brain Research,233, 2489–2495.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Piccardi, L., Risetti, M., Nori, R., Tanzilli, A., Bernardi, L., & Guariglia, C. (2011). Perspective changing in primary and secondary learning: A gender difference study. Learning and Individual Differences,21, 114–118.Google Scholar
  63. Piccardi, L., Verde, P., Bianchini, F., Morgagni, F., Guariglia, C., Strollo, F., & Tomao, E. (2014a). Deficits in visuo-spatial but not in topographical memory during pregnancy and the postpartum state in an expert military pilot: A case report. BMC Research Notes,7, 524–530.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  64. Pompili, A., Arnone, B., & Gasbarri, A. (2012). Estrogens and memory in physiological and neuropathological conditions. Psychoneuroendocrinology,37, 1379–1396.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Postma, A., Winkel, J., Tuiten, A., & van Honk, J. (1999). Sex differences and menstrual cycle effects in human spatial memory. Psychoneuroendocrinology,24, 175–192.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Prime, D. J., & Jolicoeur, P. (2010). Mental rotation requires visual short term memory: Evidence from human electric cortical activity. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience,22, 2437–2446. Scholar
  67. Robert, M., & Savoie, N. (2006). Are there gender differences in verbal and visuospatial working-memory resources? European Journal Of Cognitive Psychology,18(03), 378–397. Scholar
  68. Ryan, J. J., Kreiner, D. S., & Tree, H. A. (2008). Gender differences on WAIS-III incidental learning, pairing, and free recall. Applied Neuropsychology,15, 117–122.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Salthouse, T. A., & Mitchell, D. R. D. (1989). Structural and operational capacities in integrative spatial ability. Psychology and Aging,4, 18–25.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Saucier, D., Bowman, M., & Elias, L. (2003). Sex differences in the effect of articulatory or spatial dual-task interference during navigation. Brain and Cognition,53, 346–350.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Shah, D. S., Prados, J., Gamble, J., De Lillo, C., & Gibson, C. L. (2013). Sex differences in spatial memory using serial and search tasks. Behavioural Brain Research,257, 90–99.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Shaywitz, B. A., Shaywltz, S. E., Pugh, K. R., Constable, R. T., Skudlarski, P., Fulbright, R. K., & Gore, J. C. (1995). Sex differences in the functional organization of the brain for language. Nature, 373, 607–609.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Silverman, I., & Phillips, K. (1993). Effects of estrogen changes during the menstrual cycle on spatial performance. Ethology & Sociobiology,14, 257–270.Google Scholar
  74. Speck, O., Ernst, T., Braun, J., Koch, C., Miller, E., & Chang, L. (2000). Gender differences in the functional organization of the brain for working memory. NeuroReport,11, 2581–2585.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Vecchi, T., & Cornoldi, C. (1999). Passive storage and active manipulation in visuo-spatial working memory: Further evidence from the study of age differences. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology,11, 391–406.Google Scholar
  76. Vecchi, T., & Girelli, L. (1998). Gender differences in visuo-spatial processing: The importance of distinguishing between passive storage and active manipulation. Acta Psychologica,99, 1–16.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Vecchi, T., Monticellai, M. L., & Cornoldi, C. (1995). Visuo-spatial working memory: Structures and variables affecting a capacity measure. Neuropsychologia,33, 1549–1564.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Vecchi, T., Phillips, L. H., & Cornoldi, C. (2001). Individual differences in visuo-spatial working memory. In M. Denis, R. H. Logie, C. Cornoldi, M. de Vega, & J. Engelkamp (Eds.), Imagery, language and visuospatial thinking (pp. 29–58). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  79. Vecchi, T., & Richardson, J. T. E. (2001). Measures of visuospatial short-term memory: The Knox Cube Imitation Test and the Corsi Blocks Test compared. Brain and Cognition,46, 291–295.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Vecchi, T., Richardson, J., & Cavallini, E. (2005). Passive storage versus active processing in working memory: Evidence from age-related variations in performance. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology,17, 521–539.Google Scholar
  81. Verde, P., Boccia, M., Colangeli, S., Barbetti, S., Nori, R., Ferlazzo, F., et al. (2016). Domain-specific interference tests on navigational working memory in military pilots. Aerospace Medicine Human Performance,87, 528–533.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  82. Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychology Bulletin,117, 250–270.Google Scholar
  83. Voyer, D., Voyer, S. D., & Saint-Aubin, J. (2017). Sex differences in visual-spatial working memory: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,24, 307–334. Scholar
  84. Wang, Q. (2013). Gender and emotion in everyday event memory. Memory,21, 503–511.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  85. Wang, L., & Carr, M. (2014). Working memory and strategy use contribute to gender differences in spatial ability. Educational Psychologist,49(4), 261–282. Scholar
  86. Wang, R. F., & Spelke, E. S. (2002). Human spatial representation: insights from animals. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences,6, 376–382.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  87. Wechsler, D. (1981). Manual for the Wechsler adult intelligence scale revised (WAIS-R). San Antonio, TX: Psychol Corporation.Google Scholar
  88. Weiss, E. M., Ragland, J. D., Brensinger, C. M., Bilker, W. B., Deisenhammer, E. A., & Delazer, M. (2006). Sex difference in clustering and switching verbal fluency tasks. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society,12, 502–509.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© National Academy of Psychology (NAOP) India 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Piccardi
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Giovanni D’Antuono
    • 3
  • Dario Marin
    • 4
  • Maddalena Boccia
    • 2
  • Paola Ciurli
    • 2
  • Chiara Incoccia
    • 2
  • Gabriella Antonucci
    • 2
    • 3
  • Paola Verde
    • 5
  • Cecilia Guariglia
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Life, Health and Environmental SciencesL’Aquila UniversityL’AquilaItaly
  2. 2.IRCCSSanta Lucia FoundationRomeItaly
  3. 3.Department of Psychology“Sapienza” University of RomeRomeItaly
  4. 4.I.M.F.R. Gervasutta HospitalUdineItaly
  5. 5.Aerospace Medicine DepartmentItalian Air Force Experimental Flight CentrePomezia (RM)Italy

Personalised recommendations