Gender differences in visuo-spatial processing?

Are there differences in visuo-spatial processing between genders? I have often heard that Men have better depth perception while Women have better peripheral vision, but while it makes perfect evolutionary sense I have never found any studies which have proven it to be true.

I’m sure there’s lots of noteworthy text on this I’m just having trouble finding it and I’d like to have some substance the claims before I start regurgitating it.

Thanks in advance.

Yup, males are on the whole better at these kinds of tasks. It is seen in things like maze navigation and looking at the spatial processing of objects. I have heard nothing about differences in the visual field but would be interested in an article/cite. I believe the brain areas (right parietal I assume) homologous in males and females are larger in the former, just as females have larger language areas. Explanations I have seen rely on evolutionary psychology (usually something about hunters/gatherers or some such), which quite frankly has minimal support at best. It can be dangerous to say that this “makes sense” based upon face valid judgments.

I managed to dig up a few cites for you from google books.

As far as spacial processing is concerned, there is definitely a difference between men and women. “Sex and Cognition” by Doreen Kimura is one of many cites on this subject. The book mentions that women with CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia) perform equivalently to men in spacial tests. Women with CAH have excess levels of androgens due to the over-production of androstenedione, which is a testosterone-like androgen. The book also says that men with IHH (Idiopathic Hypogonadotropic Hypogonadism), which results in abnormally low testosterone levels, perform poorly on spacial tests.

Some of this depends on what you mean by spatial processing. Most of the books I looked at claimed that men are better at using maps to find routes and are better at mentally rotating maps and objects. Women however remember more landmarks along the route. Women are also better at remembering the position of objects.

I’m not so sure about your claim of better depth perception. “The blank slate: the modern denial of human nature” by Steven Pinker says that men are better at mentally rotating objects and maps, but says that women have better depth perception.

“About the His Brain Her Brain: How Divinely Designed Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage” by Walt Larimore, MD, Walt and Barb Larimore agrees with you on the peripheral vision though. This book claims that women have a greater proportion of cones to rods than men do, which gives women a better ability to see colors, and men a better ability to see in low light levels. The book also states that women have a wider field of view, and hence greater peripheral vision, where men, due to the higher proportion of rods, see farther and in more detail over a narrower field of view.

I’m no expert on this subject, but there are some cites for you at least.

I’ve always heard this about tests on school-children and intelligence tests for adults, where rotating cubes in your head was how spatial perception was measured. It’s the only portion of the test where male kids score higher than female kids, but subsequent studies show that with additional training, girls can catch up and perform just as well. Another example for adults was crane operator - you need extremly good 3-D perception for this, and specific training on top, so not all men can do this, yet there are a few women in this job, too.

As for the finding your way - men using compass directions, women remembering landmarks - I doubt that we can seperate out how much of that is biological and how much sociological conditioning, as in: boys are taught more often to use a compass, girls hardly; boys hear how men give descriptions, girls hear how women give descriptions etc.

There was just a book review in Science that addressed the issues of “neuromythologies”. The whole review is behind a wall but there are a few things in it that are worth bringing out to this side and directly bear on the question art hand.

Reference 5 is R. A. Lippaet al., Behav. 39, 997 (2010) if you wanted to find it.

I’ll need to look up their cites, but it sounds like mostly bullshit to me. Rods are essentially worthless in all but the dimmest light levels, and provide extremely poor acuity as well (have terrible nearsightness? Now imagine it’s worse). So the detail is poor, furthermore you have exactly zero rods in the center of your retina, so that sounds spurious.

Also, number of cones would affect color discrimination, but the idea that perhaps some women are tetrachromatic and may have four cone types. It hasn’t been shown that there are any functional differences though, but discrimination may be higher in women due to other factors as well. It has been shown that the ratio of cones (red to green) has no effect on discrimination of color. I can dig up a cite later, I think one of the authors of this or a related paper is Roorda.

I believe they’ve shown that gender-based spatial processing differences occur in species like rats, so that suggests a genetic component. I also mentioned earlier brain differences, which does not discount environment, but does suggests that any anatomical differences are likely to arise at an early age or prenatally.

I have heard about the navigation things you mentioned - women prefer landmarks and men prefer larger environmental features and orientation, although I haven’t done anything with that in several years.