Following on Jender’s the Myth of Mars and Venus:
There are more men in science because men intrinsically have better spatial-imagination capacities, which are necessary for the quantitative work. Right?
Maybe not. In Psychological Science, Feng, Spence and Pratt argue that a key difference is spatial ability can be ‘virtually eliminated’ in ten hours of video games. The article can be downloaded.
We demonstrate a previously unknown gender difference in the distribution of spatial attention, a basic capacity that supports higher-level spatial cognition. More remarkably, we found that playing an action video game can virtually eliminate this gender difference in spatial attention and simultaneously decrease the gender disparity in mental rotation ability, a higher-level process in spatial cognition. After only 10 hr of training with an action video game, subjects realized substantial gains in both spatial attention and mental rotation, with women benefiting more than men. Control subjects who played a non-action game showed no improvement. Given that superior spatial skills are important in the mathematical and engineering sciences, these findings have practical implications for attracting men and women to these fields.
Spatial rotation abilities affect one’s score in standard IQ tests and at least US college entrance exams. And no doubt others.
Another downloadable article in the same issue offers an explanation for women’s reduced abilities to perform in math and sciences. There is good evidence an environment with a large gender imbalance saps cognitive resources away from one’s performance.
Signaling Threat: How Situational Cues Affect Women in Math, Science, and Engineering Settings
Mary C. Murphy, Claude M. Steele, James J. Gross
ABSTRACT—This study examined the cues hypothesis, which holds that situational cues, such as a setting’s features and organization, can make potential targets vulnerable to social identity threat. Objective and subjective measures of identity threat were collected from male and female math, science, and engineering (MSE) majors who watched an MSE conference video depicting either an unbalanced ratio of men to women or a balanced ratio. Women who viewed the unbalanced video exhibited more cognitive and physiological vigilance, and reported a lower sense of belonging and less desire to participate in the conference, than did women who viewed the gender-balanced video. Men were unaffected by this situational cue. The implications for understanding vulnerability to social identity threat, particularly among women in MSE settings, are discussed.
You can find an informal discussion of the second story here.