Cognitive Differences

In addition to affecting perceptual and psychomotor abilities, biological differences between the sexes influence cognitive abilities and personality. A somewhat dated, but still valuable, summary of such differences may be found in Maccoby and Jacklin (1974; also see Eagly & Carli, 1981). One of the most obvious areas of sex differences in cognitive abilities is verbal-linguistic ability. Girls learn to talk and read sooner and, to some extent, better than boys. The incidence of dyslexia (reading disorder) is greater among boys, a larger percentage of boys being in remedial reading classes (Finucci & Childs, 1981; Halpern, 1992). Girls appear to retain their superiority in verbal abilities in elementary school, performing better than boys on tests of spelling, punctuation, reading comprehension, and verbal analogies.

For many years, senior high girls scored higher than boys on the verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). In recent years, however, the gender gap in scores on tests of verbal abilities administered in senior high school appears to have disappeared. In 1997, for example, the mean SATVerbal score for females (503) was 4 points lower than that for males (507). These are overall means and not necessarily representative of the results for a particular ethnic group. For example, black females score higher than black males on the SAT-Verbal. On the SAT-Mathematical, males continue to make higher mean scores than females. In 1997, the mean SAT-Mathematical score for males (530) was 36 points higher than that for females (494). Males also score slightly higher than females on the second most popular college admissions test—the American College Test (ACT) (data courtesy of College Entrance Examination Board and American College Testing Program).

Numerous explanations have been offered for gender differences in SAT scores. One hypothesis is that the socioeconomic status of girls who took the SAT in the 1980s was lower than that of boys. Another possibility is that teenage girls who took the test were more concerned about dating and possible pregnancy and less committed to schoolwork than boys (Cordes, 1986). But whatever the causes of the sex difference in mean SAT scores, it appears to be declining (Shea, 1994).

Among other cognitive abilities in which sex differences have been explored are clerical abilities and visuospatial abilities. Males tend to be more adept at business pursuits, but females have better clerical abilities (Minton & Schneider, 1980). One of the most consistent sex differences, however, is in visuospatial abilities. This ability to perceive objects in space consists of two components: analytic and nonanalytic. Tests of analytic spatial abilities include disembedding figures from backgrounds (see Figure 8-1) and constructing block designs; tests of nonanalytic spatial abilities include mental rotations and reproducing spatial relations. Adolescent and adult males tend to make higher average scores than females on both analytic and nonanalytic tests of visuospatial abilities (Petersen & Wittig, 1979). It has been suggested that these sex differences may help to explain why males score significantly higher than females on standardized mathematics tests, and particularly geometry (Burnett, 1986; Linn & Petersen, 1985).

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Adult Dyslexia

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