Exploring the Relationship Amongst Sex, Personality Traits, and Cognitive Task Performance

Heather Ann Kissel

Abstract


The results of many research studies support the hypothesis that men possess better spatial abilities than women, particularly on versions of the mental rotation task (MRT). However, while this sex difference may hold true for any given sample of men and women from the general population, people within each of these sex categorizations differ on such characteristics as personality traits. These differences in personality can be seen on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Bem Sex Role Inventory, and the Big Five Aspect Scales (BFAS). The current study explored whether these personality traits, as returned by the aforementioned inventories, were better predictors of mental rotation task performance than sex, with a particular emphasis on determining whether women with traditionally “male” personality traits performed equally to men and better than women with stereotypically “female” personality traits on a version of the mental rotation task. Analyses on a sample of men and women (N=101) indicate that while men significantly outperform women on the MRT (p<.001), women with the greatest number of “male” traits perform no differently from men, though they do not outperform women with fewer “male” traits on the MRT. Furthermore, certain personality traits yielded a significant model for predicting MRT performance—Openness/Intellect was a stronger predictor of MRT performance than sex. These results suggest that personality factors, not sex alone, may be a factor in determining spatial ability as measured by the MRT.


Keywords


sex differences; mental rotation task; Big Five Aspect Scales

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