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A woman's plight: spatial slurs ....

So many studies over the years have reported that males are superior to females in spatial abilities (nonverbal tasks involving perception and movement within defined spaces) that the "superiority" has become "common belief," says researchers at tne Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto.

But according to those researchers, such studies have been so fraught with deficiencies and inconsistencies that "the conclusion that males are superior is unwarranted." In an in-depth review of the literature on the subject, Paula J. Caplan, Gael M. MacPherson and Patricia Tobin report their findings in the July AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST. "At most," they write, "sex-related differences that have been reported are very small and, despite what some reviewers and theorists have implied, are not reliably or consistently reported."

In their review, the researchers begin by scrutinizing "perhaps the best-known example of sex-related difference in spatial abilities that is said dramatically to show male superiority" -- the maze tests of Stanley D. Porteus, which have been in use for more than 50 years. In his series of tests, Porteus consistently reported that males scored higher than females when confronted with drawing their way through line mazes.

However, the Ontario researchers report that in only 18 of his 105 studies did Porteus perform a t test, which is designed to measure significant differences in the data -- and in only 14 of those did the results reach statistical significance.

Caplan and her colleagues found similar problems throughout the literature, not only in methodology but also in consistency in defining spatial abilities. "People invented the term spatial abilities," they write. "The fact that the term...exists does not prove that the humans' brains or cognitive abilities fit [the various definitions]." On the basis of their findings, the researchers conclude that their "sex differences in spatial ability do no exist" or the issue "is by no means clear as yet."
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Title Annotation:new evaluation of research on sex-related differences
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 3, 1985
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