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Impact of Instructional Manipulation and Stereotype Activation on Sex Differences in Spatial Task Performance
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by Robyn M. Scali and Sheila Brownlow* - Catawba College
Categories: Gender | Social
Practice, experience, and efficacy beliefs influence the pattern of sex differences in spatial abilities. In addition, these differences are modified by laboratory directions and scoring techniques. We addressed several of these factors as men and women completed tasks of spatial perception, spatial visualization, and mental rotation with a specific focus on speed or accuracy. A stereotype threat (a statement that people of their sex either normally do well/do not do well) was coupled with this instructional focus. We also employed different scoring techniques, some of which adjusted performance for number of items attempted. Results revealed parity in the performances of men and women on tasks of spatial visualization, spatial perception, and—surprisingly—mental rotation (except when scored in a very strict manner). Stereotype information did not influence performance, perhaps because participants did not believe the information. Directional focus affected some aspects of performance on all the tasks, as participants who focused on speed performed more quickly, but generally less accurately, than participants who focused on accurate task completion. Self-reports of efficacy were little affected by the manipulations, and accounting for self-reports of background and prior experience with spatial tasks did not substantially alter the results. We discuss reasons for the lack of sex differences, including the salience and believability of stereotype information and women's beliefs about their abilities to perform on tasks not explicitly termed spatial.