Although there are no sex differences in general intelligence, reliable differences are found on some tests of cognitive abilities. Many of the tasks that assess the ability to manipulate visual images in working memory show an advantage for males, whereas many of the tasks that require retrieval from long-term memory and the acquisition and use of verbal information show a female advantage. Large effects favoring males are also found on advanced tests of mathematical achievement, especially with highly select samples. Males are also overrepresented in some types of mental retardation. Effects sizes are variable and often large. These differences are generally found cross-culturally and across the life span. The nature–nurture dichotomy is rejected as an interpretive framework. In light of recent findings that environmental variables alter the biological underpinnings of intelligence and individuals actively participate in creating their environments, we prefer a psychobiosocial model for understanding sex differences in intelligence.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
American Association of University Women. (1992). How Schools Shortchange Girls: The AAUW Report. Marlowe, New York.
Astin, A., Sax, L., Korn, W., and Mahoney, K. (1995). The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1995. Higher Education Research Institute, Los Angeles.
Banaji, M. R., and Hardin, C. D. (1996). Automatic stereotyping. Psych. Sci. 7: 136-141.
Birenbaum, M., Kelly, A. E., and Levi-Keren, M. (1994). Stimulus features and sex differences in mental rotation test performance. Intelligence 19: 51-64.
Brody, N. (1992). Intelligence (2nd ed.). Academic Press, New York.
Brown, L. N., Lahr, C. J., and Mosley, J. L. (1998). Age and gender-related differences in strategy use for route information: A map-present direction-giving paradigm. Environ. Behav. 30: 123-143.
Casey, M. B., Nuttall, R., Pezaris, E. and Benbow, C. (1995). The influence of spatial ability of gender differences in mathematics college entrance test scores across diverse samples. Dev. Psych. 31: 697-705.
Cowell, P. E., Turetsky, B. I., Gur, R. C., Grossman, R. I., Shtasel, D. L., and Gur, R. (1994). Sex differences in aging of the human frontal and temporal lobes. J. Neurosci. 14, 4748-4755.
Crawford, J. R., and Allen, K. M. (1995). The WAIS-R (UK): Basic psychometric properties in an adult UK population. Br. J. Clin. Psych. 34: 237-250.
Dabbs, J. M., Chan, E. L., Strong, R. A., and Milun, R. (1998). Spatial-ability, navigation strategy, and geographic knowledge among men and women. Evol. Hum. Behav. 19: 89-98.
DeFries, J. C., and Gillis, J. J. (1993). Genetics of reading disability. In Plomin, R. and McClearn, G. E. (Eds.), Nature, Nurture and Psychology. American Psychological Association. Washington, DC. pp. 121-145.
Eals, M., and Silverman, I. (1994). The hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences: Proximate factors mediating the female advantage in recall of object arrays. Ethol. Sociobiol. 15: 95-105.
Feingold. A. (1996). Cognitive gender differences: Where are they and why are they there? Learn. Indiv. Diff. 8: 25-32.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. Basic, New York.
Gazzaniga, M. S., Ivry, R. B., and Mangun, G. R. (1998). Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind. W. W. Norton, New York.
Geffen, G., Moar, K. J., O'Hanlon, A. P., Clark, C. R., and Geffen, L. B. (1990). Performance measures of 16-to 86-year-old males and females on the Auditory Verbal Learning Test. Clin. Neuropsych. 4: 45-63.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. Bantam, New York.
Greenough, W. T., Black, J. E., and Wallace, C. S. (1987). Experience and brain development. Child Dev. 58: 539-559.
Gur, R. E., and Gur, R. C. (1990). Gender differences in cerebral blood flow. Schizoph. Bull. 16: 247-254.
Halpern, D. F. (1996). Public policy implications of sex differences in cognitive abilities. Psych. Pub. Pol. Law 2: 561-574.
Halpern, D. F. (1997). Sex differences in intelligence: Implications for education. Am. Psych. 52: 1091-1102.
Halpern, D. F. (2000). Sex differences in cognitive abilities (3rd ed.). Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ.
Hampson, E., and Kimura, D. (1988). Reciprocal effects of hormonal fluctuations on human motor and perceptual-spatial skills. Behav. Neurosci. 102: 456-495.
Hare-Mustin, R. T., and Marecek, J. (1994). Asking the right questions: Feminist psychology and sex differences. Fem. Psych. 4: 531-537.
Hedges, L. V., and Nowell, A. (1995). Sex differences in mental test scores, variability, and numbers of high-scoring individuals. Science 269: 41-45.
Henderson, V. W., Paganini, H. A., Emanuel, C. K., Dunn, M. E., and Buckwalter, J. G. (1994). Estrogen replacement therapy in older women: Comparisons between Alzheimer's disease cases and nondemented control subjects. Arch. Neurol. 51: 896-900.
Henning-Stout, M., and Close-Conoley, J. (1992). Gender: A subtle influence in the culture of the school. In Medway, F. J. and Cafferty, T. P. (Eds.), School Psychology: A Social Psychological Perspective (pp. 113-135). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Herlitz, A., Nilsson, L-G., and Baeckman, L. (1997). Gender differences in episodic memory. Mem. Cog. 25: 801-811.
Hollway, W. (1994). Beyond sex differences: A project for feminist psychology. Fem. Psych. 4: 538-546.
Horn, J. L. (1985). Psychometric Studies of Aging and Intelligence. Raven Press, New York.
Huang, J. (1993). An investigation of gender differences in cognitive abilities among Chinese high school students. Person. Indiv. Diff. 15: 717-719.
Hunt, E., Pellegrino, J. W., Frick. R. W., Farr, S. A., and Alderton, D. (1988). The ability to reason about movement in the visual field. Intelligence 12: 77-100.
Hunt, M. (1999). The New Know-Nothings. Transaction, New Brunswick.
Huttenlocher, J., Haight, W., Bryk, A., Seltzer, M., and Lyons, T. (1991). Early vocabulary growth: Relation to language input and gender. Dev. Psych. 27: 236-248.
Jacobs, D. M. Tang, M. X., Stern, Y., Sano, M., Marder, K., Bell, K. L., Schofield, P., Dooneief, G., Gurland, B., and Mayeux, R. (1998). Cognitive function in non-demented older women who took estrogen after menopause. Neurology 50: 368-373.
Jensen, A. R. (1969). How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement? Harv. Edu. Rev. 39: 1-123.
Jensen, A. R. (1998). The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT.
Kampen, D. L. and Sherwin, B. B. (1996). Estradiol is related to visual memory in healthy young men. Behav. Neurosci. 110: 613-617.
Kleinfeld, J. (1998). The Myth that Schools Shortchange Girls: Social Science in the Service of Deception. The Women's Freedom Network, Washington, DC.
Larrabee, G. J., and Crook, T. H., III. (1993). Do men show more rapid age-associated decline in simulated everyday verbal memory than do women? Psych. Aging 8: 68-71.
Linn, M. C., and Petersen, A. C. (1986). A meta-analysis of gender differences in spatial ability. Implications for mathematics and science achievement. In Hyde, J. S. and Linn, M. C. (Eds.). The Psychology of Gender: Advances through Meta-Analysis. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp. 67-101.
Lynn, R. (1994). Sex differences in intelligence and brain size: A paradox resolved. Person. Indiv. Diff. 17: 257-271.
Loring-Meier S., and Halpern, D. F. (1999). Sex differences in visual-spatial working memory: Components of cognitive processing. Psychonom. Bull. Rev. 6: 464-471.
Lynn, R. (1998). Has the black-white intelligence difference in the United States been narrowing over time? Person. Indiv. Diff. 25: 801-804.
Makintosh, N. J. (1996). Sex differences in IQ. J. Biosoc. Sci. 28: 559-571.
Masters, M. S., and Sanders, B. (1993). Is the gender difference in mental rotation disappearing? Behav. Gen. 23: 337-341.
Meinz, E. J., and Salthouse, T. A. (1998). Is age kinder to females than to males? Psychonom. Bull. Rev. 5: 56-70.
McGuiness, D. (1976). Sex differences in the organization of perception and cognition. In Lloyd, B. and Archer, J. (Eds.). Exploring Sex Differences. Academic Press., New York. pp. 123-156.
Moore, T. (1967). Language and intelligence: A longitudinal study of the first eight years. Hum. Dev. 10: 88-106.
Mortel, K. F., and Meyer, J. S. (1995). Lack of menopausal estrogen replacement therapy and the risk of dementia. J. Neuropsych. Clin. 2: 334-337.
Ohkura, T., Isse, K., Akazawa, K., Hamamoto, M., Yaoi, Y., and Hagino, N. (1995). Long-term estrogen replacement therapy in female patients with dementia of the Alzheimer type: 7 case reports. Dementia 6: 99-107.
Paganini-Hill, A., Buckwalter, J. G., Logan, C. G., and Henderson, V. W. (1993). Estrogen replacement and Alzheimer's disease in women. Soc. Neurosci. Abst. 19: 1046.
Posner, M. I., and Raichle, M. E. (1994). Images of Mind. New York: Freeman.
Resnick, S. M. (1993). Sex differences in mental rotations: An effect of time limits? Brain Cog. 21: 71-73.
Resnick, S. M., Metter, E. J., and Zonderman, A. B. (1997). Estrogen replacement therapy and longitudinal decline in visual memory: A possible protective effect? Neurology 49: 1491-1497.
Robinson, N. M., Abbott, R. D., Berninger, V. W., and Busse, J. (1996). The structure of abilities in math-precocious young children: Gender similarities and differences. J. Edu. Psych. 88: 341-352.
Schiff, W., and Oldak, R. (1990). Accuracy of judging time to arrival: Effects of modality, trajectory, and gender. J. Exper. Psych. Hum. Percep. Perform. 16: 303-316.
Schmidt, R., Fazekas, F., Reinhart, B., Kapeller, P., Fazekas, G., Offenbacher, H., Eber, B., Schumacher, M., and Freidl, W. (1996). Estrogen replacement therapy in older women: A neuropsychological and brain MRI study. J. Am. Geri. Soc. 44: 1307-1313.
Shucard, D. W., Shucard, J. L., and Thomas, D. G. (1987). Sex differences in electrophysiological activity in infancy. Possible implications for language development. In Phillips, S. U., Steele, S., and Tanz, C. (Eds.), Language, Gender, and Sex in Comparative Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 278-295.
Simpkins, J. W., Singh, M., and Bishop, J. (1994). The potential role for estrogen replacement therapy in the treatment of the cognitive decline and neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer's disease. Neurobiol. Aging 15: S195-S197.
Smith, C. A., McCleary, C. A., Murdock, G. A., Wilshire, T. W., Buckwalter, D. K., Bretsky, P., Marmol, L., Gorsuch, R. L., and Buckwalter, J. G. (1999). Lifetime estrogen exposure and cognitive performance in elderly women. Brain Cog. 39: 203-218.
Smith, G. A., and McPhee, K. A. (1987). Performance on a coincidence timing task correlates with intelligence. Intelligence 11: 161-167.
Smolak, L. (1986). Infancy, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Stanley, J. C., Benbow, C. P., Brody, L. E., Dauber, S., and Lupkowski, A. (1992). Gender differences in eighty-six nationally standardized aptitude and achievement tests. In Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., and Ambroson, D. L. (Eds.), Talent Development, Vol. 1: Proceedings from the 1991 Henry B. and Jocelyn Wallace National Research Symposium on Talent Development. Trillium Press, Unionville, NY, pp. 42-65.
Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. Am. Psych. 52: 613-629.
Sternberg, R. J., Wagner, R. K., Williams, W. M., and Horvath, J. A. (1995). Testing common sense. Am. Psych. 50: 912-927.
Stricker, L. J., Rock, D. A., and Burton, N. W. (1993). Sex differences in predictions of college grades from Scholastic Aptitude scores. J. Edu. Psych. 85: 710-718.
Stumpf, H. (1995). Gender differences in performance on tests of cognitive abilities: Experimental design issues and empirical results. Learn. Indiv. Diff. 7: 275-287.
Stumpf, H., and Eliot, J. (1995). Gender-related differences in spatial ability and the k factor of general spatial ability in a population of academically talented students. Person. Indiv. Diff. 19: 33-45.
Stumpf, H., and Jackson, D. N. (1994). Gender-related differences in cognitive abilities: Evidence from a medical school admissions testing program. Person. Indiv. Diff. 17: 335-344.
Stumpf, H., and Stanley, J. C. (1996). Gender-related differences on the College Board's Advanced Placement and Achievement Tests, 1982-1992. J. Edu. Psych. 88: 353-364.
Swim, J. K. (1994). Perceived versus meta-analytic effect sizes: An assessment of the accuracy of gender stereotypes. J. Person. Soc. Psych. 66: 21-36.
U. S. Department of Education. (1997). National Assessment of Educational Progress (Indicator 32: Writing proficiency: Prepared by the Educational Testing Service). Washington, DC. (World Wide Web: http//www.ed/gov/nces)
Ungerleider, L. G. (1995). Functional brain imaging studies of cortical mechanisms for memory. Science 270: 769-775.
Voyer, D., Voyer, S., and Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psych. Bull. 117: 250-270.
Weiss, L. G., and Prifitera, A. (1995). An evaluation of differential prediction of WIAT achievement scores from WISC-III FSIQ across ethnic and gender groups. J. School Psych. 33: 297-304.
West, R. L. (1996). An application of prefrontal cortex function theory to cognitive aging. Psych. Bull. 120: 272-292.
Willingham, W. W., and Cole, N. S. (1997). Gender and Fair Assessment. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.
About this article
Cite this article
Halpern, D.F., LaMay, M.L. The Smarter Sex: A Critical Review of Sex Differences in Intelligence. Educational Psychology Review 12, 229–246 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009027516424
- human sex differences
- spatial abilities
- verbal abilities
- human cognition