A blog from a North-norwegian human-centered technologist

International Womans day research news: women can be better (faster) than men in spatial tasks – if the display is large enough!

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It feels appropriate to blog about my own research on this day, since it is all about the women today.

In a recently published article in Scandinavian Journal of Psychology we describe our findings of how we found women to outperform men in the cognitive (spatial) task of “mental rotation”, despite a traditional male superiority in this task. Moreover, even though “common knowledge” is that men tend to be better in cognitive spatial tasks, mental rotation (MR) is the only task where a significant and persistent advantage has been observed favoring men in the past. MR is the task of deciding whether two arm-like (three dimensional) structures are the same, when one object is either a rotated version of the other or a different object. In order to compare the objects one have to imagine to rotate one object and to try and fit it within the other. Here are some example stimuli:

What we did was to enlarge the traditional stimuli to about twice the normal visual angle (occupied by the objects) and compared performance between males and females on normal sized stimuli to performance with the enlarged stimuli. What we actually found was that with the enlarged stimuli males’ performance with respect to task efficacy (speed) was degraded with large objects so as to produce a female advantage of about 20%. That is, females had 20% faster response times with larger stimuli. Since the results were relatively surprising we repeated the experiment to confirm the findings. The replication study confirmed our findings that males’ performance was negatively affected by larger objects so as to produce a female advantage on large objects. The details of the study can be found in the online version of our paper:


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