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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by a Griffith University Postgraduate Research Scholarship. Thanks go to Dr Heather Green, Dr Michael Steele, Dr Elizabeth Conlon, and Dr Margaret Signorella for early revisions of this manuscript.

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Reilly, D., Neumann, D.L. Gender-Role Differences in Spatial Ability: A Meta-Analytic Review. Sex Roles 68, 521–535 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-013-0269-0

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Keywords

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