Gender differences in spatial reasoning appear to be nurture

by David_Gerard 8y3rd Sep 201187 comments


"In this study, we use a large-scale incentivized experiment with nearly 1,300 participants to show that the gender gap in spatial abilities, measured by time to solve a puzzle, disappears when we move from a patrilineal society to an adjoining matrilineal society."

It is presently a commonplace of Western culture that women are worse at spatial reasoning than men, and this is commonly attributed to intrinsic biological differences.

It turns out this may be highly questionable. A study in PNAS studied two nearby tribes in northeast India, one with a strongly patriarchal organisation, one with a strongly matriarchal organisation. Both share the same agrarian diet and lifestyle and DNA tests indicate they are closely related.

In the patriarchal society, women did noticeably worse on spatial reasoning. In the matriarchal society, women and men did about the same.

The authors carefully do not overstate their results, claiming only that they demonstrated that culture influences spatial performance "in the task that we study." However, this promisingly suggests quite a bit of room for improvement of measurable aspects of intelligence may be feasible with proper attention to culture and nurture.

What measurable aspects of intelligence do you attribute to genetic causes? Can you test it this well? How would you fix it and help people be all they can be?

News coverage: ArsTechnica.