Spatial ability and related socio-cultural factors: Sex, college major, and native language



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The present dissertation focused on preferred strategies during spatial performance, and specifically investigated how sex, college major and native language are related to the strategies used during the Vandenberg and Kuse Mental Rotation Test (the MRT, 1978). The present dissertation involves three studies. In Study I, the mental rotation (MR) strategies used by a group of monolingual native English speakers were examined as a function of their sex and college major via the use of a behavioral dual-task paradigm (i.e., the participants are required to process MR problems while maintaining a verbal or spatial concurrent memory load). In Study II, electroencephalography (EEG) was used to further investigate brain activation patterns among monolingual native English speakers when performing the MRT. Study III used a comparable design to that of Study I to investigate whether monolingual native Chinese speakers and Chinese-English bilinguals would show a stronger tendency towards using a holistic strategy in MRT performance as compared to native monolingual English speakers. The findings from the three studies indicate that for monolingual native English speakers, MR strategies varied according to sex and college major, with physical science males using a holistic strategy and social science males using an analytic strategy. Females, regardless of their college majors, employed a combined strategy. Monolingual native Chinese speakers were found to be highly consistent on MRT accuracy, showing no significant main effect of sex or college major. Moreover, monolingual Chinese speakers in social science used a combined MR strategy, while monolingual Chinese speakers in physical science used either a combined or a holistic strategy. This consistent tendency in MR performance of native Chinese speakers is argued as evidence of the influence of long-term usage of a native logographic language on spatial ability. Chinese-English bilinguals did not show an advantage on the MRT as compared to other language groups, and their strategy preferences were similar to those of monolingual native English speakers. This similarity is argued to be due to the influence of using English as a primary language when living in an English-speaking environment.



Spatial ability, Sex, College major, Native language, Bilingualism