Gender Differences in Object Location Memory: A Meta-Analysis

Article excerpt

The goal of the present study was to quantify the magnitude of gender differences in object location memory tasks. A total of 123 effect sizes (d) drawn from 36 studies were included in a meta-analysis using a hierarchical approach. Object identity memory (37 effect sizes) and object location memory (86 effect sizes) tasks were analyzed separately. Object identity memory task showed significant gender differences that were homogeneous and in favor of women. For the object location memory tasks, effect sizes had to be partitioned by age (younger than 13, between 13 and 18, older than 18), object type (common, uncommon, gender neutral, geometric, masculine, feminine), scoring method (accuracy, time, distance), and type of measure (recall, recognition) to achieve homogeneity. Significant gender differences in favor of females were obtained in all clusters above the age of 13, with the exception of feminine, uncommon, and gender-neutral objects. Masculine objects and measures of distance produced significant effects in favor of males. Implications of these results for future work and for theoretical interpretations are discussed.

When considering the question of differences in cognitive abilities between men and women, there are specific areas that come to mind quite readily. For a number of years, researchers have been aware that the domains of spatial and mathematical abilities seem especially relevant to the question of cognitive gender differences since they yield marked differences in favor of males (Benbow, 1988; Hedges &Nowell, 1995; Hyde, Fennema, & Lamon, 1990; Linn & Petersen, 1985; Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden, 1995). Although verbal abilities were long believed to be in favor of women (see, e.g., Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974), more recent reviews suggest that they are either weakly in favor of women, not significant at all, or even in favor of men, depending on the task considered (Hedges & Nowell, 1995; Hyde & Linn, 1988). At the time Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) wrote their landmark book, many believed that spatial, mathematical, and verbal abilities were the only areas where cognitive gender differences occurred.

More recent work, however, suggests that an area of cognitive abilities that was not mentioned by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) offers potential for emerging gender differences. Specifically, in the early 1990s, a number of researchers reported gender differences in favor of females in tasks requiring memory for the location of objects (see, e.g., Crook, Youngjohn, & Larrabee, 1990; Sharps, WeIton, & Price, 1993; Silverman & EaIs, 1992). In what is probably the most cited of these studies, Silverman and EaIs (1992) developed a task that they claimed reflected a yet unexplored aspect of spatial abilities, namely spatial memory. In this task, participants were presented with a randomly organized array of line drawings on a single piece of paper. Participants studied this array for 1 min, followed by a new piece of paper on which they were required to identify which objects were old (found in the study array) and which ones had been added. This task is labeled as the objects identity memory task hereafter, and it was presented by Silverman and EaIs as a measure of memory that is independent of location. Finally, a third array was presented in which some of the objects that had been found in the study array had been moved, whereas others remained where they were (unmoved). Participants were required to identify the moved and unmoved objects. This task is labeled as the conventional object location memory task hereafter, and it was presented as a measure of object location memory by Silverman and Eals. The authors found that women performed better than men in both tasks. Since then, the results obtained in this initial study (Study 1 of the Silverman & Eals, 1992, article) have been replicated several times by various researchers with the conventional object location memory task. …