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Katerina Andrinopoulos, Oliver Jacobs, Alan Kingstone, Jennifer Steeves; Sex differences in visuospatial mental rotation persist under 3D VR conditions. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):794. https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.794.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
The classic Shepard and Metzler (1971) mental rotation task showed a male advantage for visuospatial mental rotation of block structure images. This finding has been replicated numerous times and despite the ubiquity of the effect, some researchers question the ecological validity of the pen and paper task. One study rendered semi-immersive VR stereoscopic block structure images which eliminated this sex difference (Parsons et al., 2004). They generated 3D images with the ImmersaDesk stereo-goggle system and found no sex difference in ability to manually rotate a virtual object to the same spatial orientation as the previously seen target object. Here, we sought to re-examine potential sex differences in mental rotation ability using a novel VR adaptation of the original Shepard and Metzler mental rotation task with more capable and modern VR equipment (HTC VIVE). Our hypothesis was that using VR to generate 3D depth information in the block structures for mental rotation would yield sufficient additional structural information for the female observers to better complete the visual mental rotation task and thereby reduce the previously observed male advantage. Twenty-three female and 23 male participants indicated which two of four spatially rotated 3D blocks were the same as the target block. They were given unlimited time to complete the of stimulus consisting of 20 trials. We measured proportion correct as a function of sex of participant. Despite the VR set-up, we found a large male advantage, greater than is typically reported. These results stand in contrast to Parson’s et al (2004) VR study which found no sex differences. However, because that study allowed participants to manually rotate the virtual images it likely assessed visuomotor spatial ability rather than pure visual spatial ability with mental rotation. Thus, the male advantage in pure mental rotation ability appears to persist even when presented in VR.
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