Maximization of Spatial Competence:
More Important than Finding the
Cause of Sex Differences
Nora S. Newcombe
The ancient Greeks counseled people to seek moderation in all things. But the history of psychology shows that not many heeded this advice. The literature is filled with either/or debates. Some controversies are the kind only scientists worry about, such as whether memory loss results from decay or from interference. Other controversies engage the general population, such as the debate over nature and nurture as determinants of human ability and personality. One of the most contentious areas is the issue of causes of cognitive sex differences. Despite lip service to the credo of interactionism, psychologists usually divide into biological and social camps. Biologically inclined investigators typically argue that certain sex differences are large, important, immutable, observed across species, seen in young as well as mature humans, related to biological variables such as hormone levels or brain organization, and based on adaptive evolution. Socially inclined investigators, by contrast, often argue that sex differences are small, unimportant, changeable (e.g., disappearing in historical time), larger in older children (i.e., increasing with greater exposure to the culture), related to social variables such as expectations and stereotypes, and based on culturally contingent facts such as division of labor.