Confidence Mediates the Sex Difference in Mental Rotation Performance

Department of Marketing, Bocconi University, Via Roentgen 1, 20136, Milan, Italy.
Archives of Sexual Behavior (Impact Factor: 3.53). 12/2011; 41(3):557-70. DOI: 10.1007/s10508-011-9875-5
Source: PubMed


On tasks that require the mental rotation of 3-dimensional figures, males typically exhibit higher accuracy than females. Using the most common measure of mental rotation (i.e., the Mental Rotations Test), we investigated whether individual variability in confidence mediates this sex difference in mental rotation performance. In each of four experiments, the sex difference was reliably elicited and eliminated by controlling or manipulating participants' confidence. Specifically, confidence predicted performance within and between sexes (Experiment 1), rendering confidence irrelevant to the task reliably eliminated the sex difference in performance (Experiments 2 and 3), and manipulating confidence significantly affected performance (Experiment 4). Thus, confidence mediates the sex difference in mental rotation performance and hence the sex difference appears to be a difference of performance rather than ability. Results are discussed in relation to other potential mediators and mechanisms, such as gender roles, sex stereotypes, spatial experience, rotation strategies, working memory, and spatial attention.

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    • "In mental rotation, the typical male advantage emerged on the MRT-3D with an effect size d = 0.57 in the typical range (Estes & Felkner, 2012; Voyer et al., 1995). The sex difference in MP-2D was nonsignificant and negligible in size (d = 0.15) and was consistent with previous findings showing that 3-dimensional objects yield stronger sex differences than 2-dimensional objects (e.g., Peters et al., 1995). "
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    ABSTRACT: Sex differences in specific cognitive abilities are well documented, but the biological, psychological, and sociocultural interactions that may underlie these differences are largely unknown. We examined within a biopsychosocial approach how gender stereotypes affect cognitive sex differences when adult participants were tested in mixed- or same-sex groups. A total of 136 participants (70 women) were allocated to either mixed- or same-sex groups and completed a battery of sex-sensitive cognitive tests (i.e., mental rotation, verbal fluency, perceptual speed) after gender stereotypes or gender-neutral stereotypes (control) were activated. To study the potential role of testosterone as a mediator for group sex composition and stereotype boost/threat effects, saliva samples were taken before the stereotype manipulation and after cognitive testing. The results showed the typical male and female advantages in mental rotation and verbal fluency, respectively. In general, men and women who were tested in mixed-sex groups and whose gender stereotypes had not been activated performed best. Moreover, a stereotype threat effect emerged in verbal fluency with reduced performance in gender stereotyped men but not women. Testosterone levels did not mediate the effects of group sex composition and stereotype threat nor did we find any relationship between testosterone and cognitive performance in men and women. Taken together, the findings suggest that an interaction of gender stereotyping and group sex composition affects the performance of men and women in sex-sensitive cognitive tasks. Mixed-sex settings can, in fact, increase cognitive performance as long as gender-stereotyping is prevented.
    Archives of Sexual Behavior 06/2014; 43(8). DOI:10.1007/s10508-014-0311-5 · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    • "Some researchers emphasize biological causes by, for example, relating female and male spatial performance to their hormonal cycles (e.g., Courvoisier et al., 2013) or by claiming that observed structural sex differences in the brain cause these and other cognitive sex differences (e.g., Chou, Cheng, Chen, Lin, & Chu, 2011). Other researchers emphasize sociocultural influences by demonstrating that, for example, the usual sex difference can be reduced or eliminated by equating male and female participants' confidence in their ability (Estes & Felker, 2012) or by inducing the belief that male superiority in performance is due not to ability but to external causes (e.g., gender stereotyping; Moè, 2012). Thus, spatial ability illustrates a common pattern whereby research articles often favor nature or nurture explanations and acknowledge the alternative minimally or not at all. "
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    ABSTRACT: Nature-nurture debates continue to be highly contentious in the psychology of gender despite the common recognition that both types of causal explanations are important. In this article, we provide a historical analysis of the vicissitudes of nature and nurture explanations of sex differences and similarities during the quarter century since the founding of the Association for Psychological Science. We consider how the increasing use of meta-analysis helped to clarify sex difference findings if not the causal explanations for these effects. To illustrate these developments, this article describes socialization and preferences for mates as two important areas of gender research. We also highlight developing research trends that address the interactive processes by which nature and nurture work together in producing sex differences and similarities. Such theorizing holds the promise of better science as well as a more coherent account of the psychology of women and men that should prove to be more influential with the broader public. © The Author(s) 2013.
    Perspectives on Psychological Science 05/2013; 8(3):340-357. DOI:10.1177/1745691613484767 · 4.89 Impact Factor
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    • "As suggested by Estes and Felker (2011), the influence of both biological and social variables on mental rotation might be mediated by the same psychological processes. One of these mediating psychological variables is probably self-confidence: On the one hand, confidence predicts mental-rotation performance, supposedly by affecting strategy use (Estes & Felker, 2011), and on the other hand, confidence relates to testosterone levels (Johnson, Zava, & McCoy, 2000) and stereotype activation (Chalabaev et al., 2008; Steele, 1997; Walton & Cohen, 2003). The link between biological variables and ST has not yet been studied in preadolescent subjects. "
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    ABSTRACT: Females’ performance in a gender-stereotyped domain is impaired when negative gender stereotypes are activated (Nguyen & Ryan, 2008). "Stereotype threat" affects the gender difference in adults’ mental-rotation performance (e.g., Moè & Pazzaglia, 2006). Our study investigated this effect in fourth graders. Two hundred sixteen males and females solved two mental-rotation tests. In between, a gender-difference instruction was given ("boys better," "girls better," "no gender difference"). A significant interaction of time and gender was found in the "girls better"-condition and in the "no gender difference"-condition: As expected, the male performance advantage disappeared after these two instructions, because girls improved and boys deteriorated. Thus, the study suggests that the gender effect in mental rotation is affected by stereotype threat and stereotype lift from the very beginning of its occurrence. Results are discussed within a biopsychosocial framework and seem to play an important role with regard to the "hidden curriculum" in schools.
    Zeitschrift für Psychologie 01/2012; 22:61-69. DOI:10.1027/2151-2604/a000097 · 0.81 Impact Factor
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