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Comparing spatial ability of male and female students completing Humanities vs. technical degrees

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Elena A. Esipenko, Ekaterina P. Maslennikova, Anna V. Budakova, Kseniya R. Sharafieva, Victoria I. Ismatullina, Inna V. Feklicheva, Nadezhda A. Chipeeva, Elena L. Soldatova, Zhanna E. Borodaeva, Kaili Rimfeld, Nikolas G. Shakeshaft, Margherita Malanchini, Sergey B. Malykh

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-49
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology in Russia: State of the Art
Volume11
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

King's Authors

Abstract

Background. Spatial ability (SA) has long been the focus of research in psychology, because it is associated with performance in science, technologies, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Research has shown that males consistently outperform females in most aspects of SA, which may partially explain the observed overrepresentation of male students seeking STEM degrees. Objective. This study examines sex and field of study (degree) differences in different aspects of spatial ability and its structure. Design. We assessed SA by using an on-line gamified battery, which included 10 spatial tests capturing 10 dimensions of spatial ability, among which were mental rotation, spatial visualization, spatial scanning, spatial reasoning, perspective-taking, and mechanical reasoning. The sample consisted of 882 STEM (55% males) and Humanities (20% males) university students in Russia. Results. Males outperformed females on all assessed components of SA with a small effect size (1-11%). We also found that students from STEM fields outperformed Humanities students on all SA subtests (effect size ranged from 0.2 to 7%). These differences by study choice were not fully explained by the observed over-representation of males in the STEM group. The results of the study suggested no interaction between sex and degree. In other words, on average, males outperformed females, irrespective of whether they were STEM or humanities students; and the STEM advantage was observed for both males and females. The same unifactorial structure of SA was observed in the STEM and Humanities groups. Conclusion. Our results are consistent with previous research, suggesting sex and study field differences in SA. Longitudinal research is needed to explore the causal mechanisms underscoring these differences. males and females. The same unifactorial structure of SA was observed in the STEM and Humanities groups. Conclusion. Our results are consistent with previous research, suggesting sex and study field differences in SA. Longitudinal research is needed to explore the causal mechanisms underscoring these differences.

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