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Psychologists report that a gender gap in spatial skills starts in infancy
Date:12/9/2008

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.

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
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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