Paper folding: Mars and Venus?

Originally published in The Guardian/Observer

How good are you at visualizing things (and is it true that men are better than women)? This test involves imagining what a piece of paper that has been folded (dotted line + arrow) then cut (solid line) looks like when unfolded again. In each case, you have five options to choose from (A-E). If you have a partner, friend or family member of the opposite sex handy, you might like to compare your results. Click here for the test, then scroll down to see the answer.

If you got both correct, then congratulations – you have excellent visuo-spatial reasoning abilities. This is just one of the many components of overall intelligence, but – interestingly – one where men generally outperform women. However, if this wasn’t the case in your household, don’t be too shocked: Although men do better on average, the difference is very small. In fact, a third of women do better than the average man. And this is one of the biggest gender differences ever found in psychology. Men and women are much more similar than they are different: In 2005, Janet Hyde, an American Psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published a review of 46 different meta analyses looking at psychological gender differences, each summarising tens of individual studies.

A meta analysis is a study that combines the findings of – ideally – all previous experiments on a particular topic, and boils them down to a single number: Cohen’s d. You can visualize different values of this measure here. The light- and dark-blue areas of the graph represent the two groups being compared (in this case, men and women, respectively). For most tests of visuo-spatial ability, the male advantage is somewhere in the region of d=0.4, meaning that – as you can see from the interactive visualization – there is still considerable overlap between the groups. Even for the psychological factors that show the biggest gender difference (e.g., attitudes towards casual sex and masturbation with d=0.8 and d=1.0 respectively), the two curves overlap a great deal. Try for yourself and see (see Table 1 of Hyde’s paper for more values of Cohen’s d to try). For comparative purposes, the male advantage for throwing distance (a very large, non-psychological gender difference) is about d=3.5.

Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist60(6), 581-592.

Answers: B and D

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