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Sex difference on spatial skill test linked to brain structure
Date:12/17/2008

Men consistently outperform women on spatial tasks, including mental rotation, which is the ability to identify how a 3-D object would appear if rotated in space. Now, a University of Iowa study shows a connection between this sex-linked ability and the structure of the parietal lobe, the brain region that controls this type of skill.

The parietal lobe was already known to differ between men and women, with women's parietal lobes having proportionally thicker cortexes or "grey matter." But this difference was never linked back to actual performance differences on the mental rotation test.

UI researchers found that a thicker cortex in the parietal lobe in women is associated with poorer mental rotation ability, and in a new structural discovery, that the surface area of the parietal lobe is increased in men, compared to women. Moreover, in men, the greater parietal lobe surface area is directly related to better performance on mental rotation tasks. The study results were published online Nov. 5 by the journal Brain and Cognition.

"Differences in parietal lobe activation have been seen in other studies. This study represents the first time we have related specific structural differences in the parietal lobe to sex-linked performances on a mental rotation test," said Tim Koscik, the study's lead author and a graduate student in the University of Iowa Neuroscience Graduate Program. "It's important to note that it isn't that women cannot do the mental rotation tasks, but they appear to do them slower, and neither men nor women perform the tasks perfectly."

The study was based on tests of 76 healthy Caucasian volunteers -- 38 women and 38 men, all right-handed except for two men. The groups were matched for age, education, IQ and socioeconomic upbringing. When tested on mental rotation tasks, men averaged 66 percent correct compared to 53 percent correct for women. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed an approximately
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Contact: Becky Soglin
becky-soglin@uiowa.edu
319-335-6660
University of Iowa
Source:Eurekalert

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