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Sex Differences in Mental Rotation Ability Are a Consequence of Procedure and Artificiality of Stimuli

Abstract

Mental rotation is a cognitive process that involves performing rotations on visual images or objects, which has played a significant role in humans’ evolutionary past. Sex differences in mental rotation ability have been extensively assessed using the Vandenberg and Kuse (1978) Mental Rotations Test. This test produces consistently higher scores for men than women, which has led numerous researchers to conclude that males have superior mental rotation ability. The causes of this sex difference have been widely debated, and research remains inconclusive. Various researchers have challenged the legitimacy of this male advantage by investigating moderating factors that are part of the assessment process. Here we show, through the use of photographs and three-dimensional models, that the form of the stimuli can eliminate the sex difference. Our results suggest that the sex difference found on this test is not due to a male advantage in spatial ability, but is an artifact of the stimuli.

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Correspondence to Maryanne L. Fisher.

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Fisher, M.L., Meredith, T. & Gray, M. Sex Differences in Mental Rotation Ability Are a Consequence of Procedure and Artificiality of Stimuli. Evolutionary Psychological Science 4, 124–133 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-017-0120-x

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