Sex Roles

, Volume 59, Issue 11–12, pp 776–786 | Cite as

Mom, Let Me Play More Computer Games: They Improve My Mental Rotation Skills

  • Isabelle D. CherneyEmail author
Original Article


This study investigated how 3-D and 2-D computer game practice and delivery as well as individual differences affect performance on two tests of mental rotation (Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test and Card Rotation Test). Sixty-one US undergraduates from the Midwest completed 4 h of either massed or distributed practice. While computer game practice improved mental rotation scores in general, women’s gains were significantly greater than men’s, and the most significant gains were accomplished when practice was massed. High mathematical ability, gender, and type of practice significantly predicted improvement scores. The findings suggest that even very minimal computer game practice may improve performance on mental rotation tasks.


Spatial experience Gender Mental rotation Computer games Visuospatial practice 


  1. Baenninger, M., & Newcombe, N. (1995). Environmental input to the development of sex-related differences in spatial and mathematical ability. Learning and Individual Differences, 7, 363–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baenninger, M., & Newcombe, N. (1989). The role of experience in spatial test performance: A meta-analysis. Sex Roles, 20, 327–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bjorklund, D. F., & Brown, R. D. (1998). Physical play and cognitive development: Integrating activity, cognition, and education. Child Development, 69, 604–606.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Casey, M. B. (2001). Spatial–mechanical reasoning skills versus mathematics self-confidence as mediators of gender differences on mathematics. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 32, 28–57.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  5. Casey, M. B., Colon, D., & Goris, Y. (1992). Family handedness as a predictor of mental rotation ability among minority girls in a math–science training program. Brain and Cognition, 18, 88–96.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Casey, M. B., Nuttall, R. L., Pezaris, E., & Benbow, C. P. (1995). The influence of spatial ability on gender differences in mathematics college entrance test scores across diverse samples. Developmental Psychology, 31, 697–705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Casey, M. B., Nuttall, R. L., & Pezaris, E. (1997). Mediators of gender differences in mathematics college entrance test scores: A comparison of spatial skills with internalized beliefs and anxieties. Developmental Psychology, 33(4), 669–680.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (2007). Are we moving closer and closer apart? Shared evidence leads to conflicting views. In S. J. Ceci, & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t there more women in science: Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 213–235). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cherney, I. D., & Neff, N. L. (2004). Role of strategies and prior exposure in mental rotation. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 98, 1269–1282.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Cherney, I. D., & Collaer, M. (2005). Sex differences in line judgment: Relation to mathematics preparation and strategy use. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 100, 615–627.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cherney, I. D., & London, K. L. (2006). Gender-linked differences in the toys, television shows, computer games, and outdoor activities of 5-to 13-year-old children. Sex Roles, 54, 717–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cherney, I. D., Jagarlamudi, K., Lawrence, E., & Shimabuku, N. (2003). Experiential factors on sex differences in mental rotation. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 96, 1062–1070.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Cherney, I. D., Rendell, J., & McDonough, R. (2006). The lines are drawn, but sex differences in spatial perception persist. Poster presented at the Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention, New York City, NY, May.Google Scholar
  14. Cherney, I. D., Rendell, J., Brabec, C. M., & Runco, D. V. (in press). Mapping out spatial ability: Sex differences in way-finding navigation.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  16. Collaer, M. L., & Nelson, J. D. (2002). Large visuospatial sex difference in line judgment: Possible role of attentional factors. Brain and Cognition, 41, 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Collins, D., & Kimura, D. (1997). A large sex difference on a two-dimensional mental rotation task. Behavioral Neuroscience, 111, 845–849.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Derakshan, N., & Eysenck, M. W. (1998). Working memory capacity in high trait-anxious and repressor groups. Cognition and Emotion, 12, 697–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Donovan, J. J., & Radosevich, D. J. (1999). A meta-analytic review of the distribution of practice effect. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 795–805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dorval, M., & Pepin, M. (1986). Effect of playing a video game on a measure of spatial visualization. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 62, 159–162.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Eccles, J. S., & Jacobs, J. E. (1986). Social forces shape math attitudes and performance. Signs, 11, 367–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ekstrom, R., French, J., Harman, H., & Dermen, D. (1976). Kit of factor referenced cognitive tests. Princeton: Educational Testing Service.Google Scholar
  23. Etaugh, C. (1983). The influence of environmental factors on sex differences in children’s play. In M. B. Liss (Ed.), Social and cognitive skills: Sex roles and children’s play. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  24. Eysenck, M. W., & Byrne, A. (1994). Implicit memory bias, explicit memory bias, and anxiety. Cognition and Emotion, 8, 415–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Feng, J., Spence, I., & Pratt, J. (2007). Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition. Psychological Science, 18(10), 850–855.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Halpern, D. F. (2000). Sex differences in cognitive abilities (3rd ed.). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  27. Halpern, D. F., Benbow, C. P., Geary, D. C., Gur, R. C., Hyde, J. S., & Gernsbacher, M. A. (2007). The science of sex differences in science and mathematics. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 8, 1–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hopko, D. R., Ashcraft, M. H., Gute, J., Ruggiero, K. J., & Lewis, C. (1998). Mathematics anxiety and working memory: Support for the existence of a deficient inhibition mechanism. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 12, 343–355.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Huttenlocher, J., Levine, S., & Vevea, J. (1998). Environmental input and cognitive growth: A study using time-period comparisons. Child Development, 69, 1012–1029.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Hyde, J. S. (2007). Women in science: Gender similarities in abilities and sociocultural forces. In S. J. Ceci, & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t there more women in science: Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 131–145). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Janiszewski, C., Noel, H., & Sawyer, A. G. (2003). A meta-analysis of the spacing effect in verbal learning: Implications for research on advertising repetition and consumer memory. The Journal of Consumer Research, 30, 138–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kenyon, J. (1984). Paper-and-pencil tests of Piaget’s water-level test: Sex differences and test modality. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 59, 739–742.Google Scholar
  33. Kozhevnikov, M., Motes, M. A., Rasch, B., & Blajenkova, O. (2006). Perspective-taking vs. mental rotation transformations and how they predict spatial navigation performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 397–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Law, D. J., Pellegrino, J. W., & Hunt, E. B. (1993). Comparing the tortoise and the hare: Gender differences and experience in dynamic spatial reasoning tasks. Psychological Science, 4, 35–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Liben, L. S., & Golbeck, S. L. (1980). Sex differences in performance on Piagetian spatial tasks: Difference in competence or performance? Child Development, 51, 594–597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Liben, L. S., & Golbeck, S. L. (1986). Adults’ demonstration of underlying Euclidean concepts in relation to task context. Developmental Psychology, 22, 487–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Linn, M. C., & Petersen, A. C. (1985). Emergence and characterization of sex differences in spatial ability: A meta-analysis. Child Development, 56, 138–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MacLeod, C., & Donnellan, A. M. (1993). Individual differences in anxiety and the restriction of working memory capacity. Personality and Individual Differences, 15, 163–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McClurg, P. A., & Chaillé, C. (1987). Computer games: Environments for developing spatial cognition? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 3, 95–111.Google Scholar
  40. Meyer, M., & Koehler, M. S. (1990). Internal influences on gender differences in mathematics. In E. Fennema, & G. C. Leder (Eds.), Mathematics and gender (pp. 60–95). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  41. Newcombe, N. S. (2007). Taking science seriously: Straight thinking about spatial sex differences. In S. J. Ceci, & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t there more women in science: Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 69–77). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Newcombe, N. S., Mathason, L., & Terlecki, M. (2002). Maximization of spatial competence: More important than finding the cause of sex differences. In A. V. McGillicuddy-De Lisi, & R. De Lisi (Eds.), Biology, society, and behavior: The development of sex differences in cognition (pp. 183–206). Westport: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  43. Okagaki, L., & Frensch, P. A. (1994). Effects of video game playing on measures of spatial performance: Gender effects in late adolescence. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 33–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ozel, S., Larue, J., & Molinaro, C. (2004). Relation between sport and spatial imagery: Comparison of three groups of participants. The Journal of Psychology, 138, 49–63.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Parameswaran, G., & De Lisi, R. (1996). Improvements in horizontality performance as a function of type of training. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 82, 595–603.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Paulman, R. G., & Kennelly, K. J. (1984). Test anxiety and ineffective test taking: Different names, same construct? Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 279–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Roberts, J., & Bell, M. (2000). Sex differences on a computerized mental rotation task disappear with computer familiarization. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91, 1027–1034.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sanders, B., Soares, M. P., & D’Aquila, J. M. (1982). The sex difference on one test of spatial visualization: A nontrivial difference. Child Development, 53, 1106–1110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schmidt, R., & Bjork, R. (1992). New conceptualization of practice: Common principles in three paradigms suggest new concepts for training. Psychological Science, 4, 207–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sherman, J. A. (1982). Continuing in mathematics: A longitudinal study of the attitudes of high school girls. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 72, 132–140.CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  51. Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., & Luschene, R. (1970). The state-trait anxiety inventory (STAI) test manual form X. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  52. Subrahmanyam, K., & Greenfield, P. M. (1994). Effect of video game practice on spatial skills in girls and boys. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 13–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Terlecki, M. S., & Newcombe, N. S. (2005). How important is the digital divide? The relation of computer and videogame usage to gender differences in mental rotation ability. Sex Roles, 53, 433–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Terlecki, M. S., Newcombe, N. S., & Little, M. (2007). Durable and generalized effects of spatial experience on mental rotation: Gender differences in growth patterns. Applied cognitive psychology. Hoboken: Wiley InterScience.Google Scholar
  55. Tohill, J. M., & Holyoak, K. J. (2000). The impact of anxiety on analogical reasoning. Thinking and Reasoning, 6, 27–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Vandenberg, S. G., & Kuse, A. R. (1978). Mental rotations: A group test of three-dimensional spatial visualization. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 47, 599–604.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Vasta, R., Knott, J. A., & Gaze, C. E. (1996). Can spatial training erase the gender differences on the water-level task? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 549–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Voyer, D., & Sullivan, A. M. (2003). The relation between spatial and mathematical abilities: Potential factors underlying suppression. International Journal of Psychology, 38, 11–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250–270.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCreighton UniversityOmahaUSA

Personalised recommendations