Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gender Gap In Spatial Skills Starts In Infancy, Psychologists Report

Date:
December 23, 2008
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
Men tend to perform better than women at tasks that require a person to rotate an object mentally, studies have indicated. Now developmental psychologists have discovered that this type of spatial skill is present in infancy, and can be found in boys as young as five months old.

An infant boy in Scott P. Johnson's UCLA Baby Lab.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Los Angeles

Men tend to perform better than women at tasks that require rotating an object mentally, studies have indicated. Now, developmental psychologists at Pitzer College and UCLA have discovered that this type of spatial skill is present in infancy and can be found in boys as young as 5 months old.

Related Articles


While women tend to be stronger verbally than men, many studies have shown that adult men have an advantage in the ability to imagine complex objects visually and to mentally rotate them. Does this advantage go back to infancy?

"We found the answer is yes," said Scott P. Johnson, a UCLA professor of psychology and an expert in infant perception, brain development, cognition and learning. "Infants as young as 5 months can perform the skill, but only boys — at least in our study."

"We've known for approximately 30 years that men and women can see an object from one perspective and then recognize that object after it has been rotated in space into a new position," said David S. Moore, professor of psychology at Pitzer College and Claremont Graduate University, both in Claremont, Calif., and an expert in the development of perception and cognition in infants. "In addition, while we have known that all people can do this, it turns out that men are quite a bit faster at it than women are. Previous studies have shown that this sex difference can be detected in children as young as 4 years of age, but our study is the first to have successfully found a way to assess the situation in young infants.

"Although we did not expect to find any sex differences in babies this young, our results suggest that the 5-month-old boys in our study used mental rotation to complete our task while the 5-month-old girls in our study did not," Moore said.

However, with most psychological characteristics, Johnson and Moore note, there are no differences between groups of men and groups of women.

Mental rotation involves taking a mental representation of a three-dimensional object and imagining it in a different orientation — basically rotating the object in your mind.

Moore and Johnson will report their findings in the Dec. 12 issue of the journal Psychological Science.

The psychologists tested 20 boys and 20 girls in the study, each 5 months old.

They used a common method in infant perception research: They had the infants look at something repeatedly until their amount of looking waned to less than half its original level. The researchers showed them a computer-generated image of a 3-D object that resembled an "L," constructed of multicolored cubes. Once the infants were bored with the object, the researchers showed them the same object from a different vantage point, and then the mirror image of the object.

"We're requiring the infants to rotate mentally in three dimensions," Johnson noted.

The 5-month-old boys looked at the mirror image about 1.5 seconds longer than they looked at the more familiar image, a "statistically robust difference" (although girls looked at both images longer than boys did), Moore and Johnson report. The 5-month-old girls looked at the mirror image for slightly less time than they looked at the familiar image.

The boys looked longer at the mirror image, the researchers said, because they recognized that the mirror image was completely new and that the other object was simply the original L-shaped image they had become bored with, shown from a different vantage point — a task that required them to rotate the remembered original object mentally.

"We don't know why men are better than women at this task or why boys are better than girls at this, but we do now know that this difference extends all the way back to 5 months of age," Johnson said. "We have shown that this gender difference is present in a pre-verbal population, a population too young to have learned it from manual experience with objects or from extensive learning processes, although learning certainly could be involved."

"We are interested in this question because the visual-spatial skills of male and female adults, on average, are different, and as developmentalists, we are interested in exploring the origins of these differences," Moore said. "While we believe we have found a phenomenon worthy of additional study, good science entails a circumspect approach to our conclusions; it would not be prudent to draw particularly strong or wide-ranging conclusions from the results of this single study."

The research was federally funded by the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "Gender Gap In Spatial Skills Starts In Infancy, Psychologists Report." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081209100948.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2008, December 23). Gender Gap In Spatial Skills Starts In Infancy, Psychologists Report. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081209100948.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "Gender Gap In Spatial Skills Starts In Infancy, Psychologists Report." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081209100948.htm (accessed January 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) More schools are using online classes to keep from losing time to snow days, but it only works if students have Internet access at home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weird Things Couples Do When They Lose Their Phone

Weird Things Couples Do When They Lose Their Phone

BuzzFeed (Jan. 24, 2015) Did you back it up? Do you even know how to do that? Video provided by BuzzFeed
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) A Boston start-up is developing a wristband they say will help users break bad habits by jolting them with an electric shock. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

RightThisMinute (Jan. 23, 2015) Not only is Kathy seeing her newborn son for the first time, but this is actually the first time she has ever seen a baby. Kathy and her sister, Yvonne, have been legally blind since childhood, but thanks to an amazing new technology, eSight glasses, which gives those who are legally blind the ability to see, she got the chance to see the birth of her son. It&apos;s an incredible moment and an even better story. Video provided by RightThisMinute
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins