Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Make her play computer games!

This post arose from an online discussion on the gender difference's in mental abilities, and its potential impact on online learning tools. I am arguing for a cultural explanation, but am faced with  this article citing fMRI evidence for the existence of sex based difference's.


Disclaimer: In reading this article I am trying not to let my predisposition not to believe in hardwired gender difference's get in the way of the facts.
Looking at Sarah L. Levin's article (2005), the link above, which is, to my mind, a nice piece of exploratory work, but no more than that. We have data for twelve subjects, We have twelve further subjects whose data was not included because of technical difficulties experienced with data collection software, and we have a further 6 subjects removed from the data because they gave the wrong answers.

In part 2 of the experiment the number of valid data sets came down to 11. So its a nice suggestive pilot study, but hardly conclusive.
We next (in the quick and dirty department) hit Google Scholar and look at the articles citing this one.
I come across this:
Which is "Explaining Map reading performance"
Authors: Lloyd, Robert Earl; Bunch, Rick L.
This one is interesting because it says that the observed differences are are best explained by gender not sex differences, which is, to my mind, culture, not biology.
Where else is the research going? Well the next exhibit from the list of documents citing this research is this:
Again abstract only, but it seems as if this research may be used to support a test for choosing Naval Aviators.

The next reference was cool:
This paper is Looking at the spatial task and musical thinking and looking for ability correlations.  It claims there is something there, but the stats are weak. At best R values of around 0.3, and a key phrase, which I love "approaching significance".
Abandoning Levin, I cut to the chase and search for "mental rotation cultural differences" in Google scholar.
I find this abstract:
Canada, Germany and Japan.

No work on culture in the abstract, but we find that Academic Program that the students are enrolled in is now a significant variable.
Finally a last abstract:
The Journal of Genetic Psychology
  Issue:  Volume 163, Number 3 / September 2002
  Pages:  272 - 282
  URL:  Linking Options
  DOI:  10.1080/00221320209598683
Improving Children's Mental Rotation Accuracy With Computer Game Playing

Richard De Lisi A1 and Jennifer L. Wolford A1
The title says it all.  Take a bunch of kids,24 boys 23 girls, Test them, The girls are not as good at mental rotation.
Make them play computer games involving mental rotation, test again and the difference goes away.
Educational conclusion. Ask your students if they play computer games and if they don't sign them up for an appropriate class.