Spatial anxiety mediates the sex difference in adult mental rotation test performance

Published on 2020-07-26T04:01:30Z (GMT) by
Abstract Mental rotation ability is associated with successful advances in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and occupations. Meta-analyses have shown consistent sex disparities in mental rotation, where men outperform women on one measure of mental rotation ability, the Mental Rotations Test (MRT). Spatial anxiety, or the fear and apprehension felt when completing a task that requires spatial thinking, was proposed as a mechanism explaining the relation between sex and mental rotation test performance. This study modified the Spatial Anxiety Scale (SAS) to include questions about how anxious individuals feel when they must mentally rotate items to accomplish a task (e.g., playing Tetris). An exploratory factor analysis was conducted to assess the factorial structure of the modified spatial anxiety scale. Three factor loadings were extracted representing the ability to navigate, mentally rotate objects, and visualize objects. Furthermore, we analyzed the role of spatial anxiety and trait anxiety as potential mediators of the relation between participant sex and mental rotation performance. Spatial anxiety partially mediated the link between the sex of the participants and the MRT performance controlling for trait anxiety. Only navigation and mental rotation anxiety significantly mediated the relation between participant sex and mental rotation performance. We posit spatial anxiety as a barrier to efficient and accurate spatial thinking, and suggest that reducing spatial anxiety has the potential to improve spatial skills and reduce sex differences in mental rotation test performance. To ascertain this, an experimental design can determine whether a reduction in spatial anxiety causes changes in mental rotation test scores.

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Alvarez-Vargas, Daniela; Abad, Carla; Pruden, Shannon M. (2020): Spatial anxiety mediates the sex difference in adult mental rotation test performance. figshare. Collection. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5073590.v1