Sex Differences in Human Cognition
Visual Spatial Abilities
The difference between men and women in mathematical ability is one of the oldest established findings in the area of sex differences. It also remains controversial. Some have argued that male’s better performance on math aptitude tests is largely due to socialization factors, such as the different expectations of teachers and parents supposedly have of the sexes, beginning early in life. This argument assumes that such attitudes determine the acquisition of math skills in children. The fact that girls, if anything, get better marks in math courses than boys do does not seem consistent with this explanation. It seems that quantitative ability, like spatial ability is a heterogeneous concept. There are several different aspects of quantitative ability, and there is good evidence that sex differences are manifested in only some of them. Stones, Beckmann, and Stephens (1982) examined this question with students at ten different colleges. The students, males and females, were given tests in ten different mathematical categories. Sex differences were found, however, on individual subtests. Females scored significantly higher than males on the tests of mathematical sentences and mathematical reasoning, perhaps reflecting the use of verbal strategies in solving these problems. Males scored significantly higher than females in geometry, measurement, probability and statistics, perhaps reflecting the use of visual spatial strategies in these areas (Hyde, 1990). Consistent sex differences have been found in many large scale studies. The largest differences favor males, who tend to outscore females on the quantitative portion of the SAT’s. A recent factor analytic study of skills conducted with collage undergraduates also supports the relationship between visual spatial and mathematical skills. Hunt ( 1985) found that three distinct...