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Mental Meeting of the Sexes: Boys' spatial advantage fades in poor families

Time and again, researchers have found that males outperform females on spatial tasks, such as those that require mental rotation of objects and shapes. A new study indicates, however, that boys and girls from poor families don't display this well-established sex difference.

The new finding suggests that childhood experiences crucially influence the sexes' spatial abilities, say psychologist Susan C. Levine of the University of Chicago and her colleagues. In poor families, both boys and girls have little access to toys and activities that promote spatial skills, the scientists propose. In previous studies of middle- and upper-income families, boys spent more time on such activities than girls did.

"Even if there is a biological propensity for a male advantage in certain spatial tasks, there are lots of reasons to think that it is not fixed," Levine says.

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