Women can be just as good as men at spatial tasks—assuming, of course, they get the same education.  According to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, men and women in matriarchal societies where they receive equal education showed equal performance in spatial abilities. The findings suggest that better education in could narrow the gap between the sexes in engineering and technology  careers, which require higher levels of spatial reasoning skills.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, asked 1,279 villagers from two neighboring North Indian tribes to assemble a four-piece puzzle into the shape of a horse.  Amongst the patriarchal Karbi tribe, where males receive on average 4 more years of education, the men solved the puzzle 36 percent faster. But amongst the matriarchal Khasi, who give girls and boys equal education, no gender difference emerged. Better-educated men and...

The new study suggests that gender differences in spatial abilities are at least partly the result of different rearing and educational practices. It also raises the possibility that improving education in spatial reasoning could reduce the gap in the number of women who study engineering or science-related subjects.

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?