Implicit and Explicit Gender Beliefs in Spatial Ability: Stronger Stereotyping in Boys than Girls

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Sex differences in spatial ability are a seriously debated topic, given the importance of spatial ability for success in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and girls' underrepresentation in these domains. In the current study we investigated the presence of stereotypic gender beliefs on spatial ability (i.e., "spatial ability is for boys") in 10- and 12-year-old children. We used both an explicit measure (i.e., a self-report questionnaire) and an implicit measure (i.e., a child IAT). Results of the explicit measure showed that both sexes associated spatial ability with boys, with boys holding more male stereotyped attitudes than girls. On the implicit measure, boys associated spatial ability with boys, while girls were gender-neutral. In addition, we examined the effects of gender beliefs on spatial performance, by experimentally activating gender beliefs within a pretest-instruction-posttest design. We compared three types of instruction: boys are better, girls are better, and no sex differences. No effects of these gender belief instructions were found on children's spatial test performance (i.e., mental rotation and paper folding). The finding that children of this age already have stereotypic beliefs about the spatial capacities of their own sex is important, as these beliefs may influence children's choices for spatial leisure activities and educational tracks in the STEM domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue number1114
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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