Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 8, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

SPATIAL RELATIONSHIPS....Men are better than women at visuospatial skills. The ev psych crowd explains this with a story about men hunting wooly mammoths during the Pleistocene and therefore evolving brain structures that are highly attuned to spatial relationships. Maybe so.

Then again, maybe not. Dave Munger reports that a research team led by Jing Feng was surprisingly successful at closing the visuospatial gender gap with just a few hours of training:

Feng's team recruited 20 new students with no gaming experience. All the students were tested with the same task and a mental rotation task, and placed in pairs scoring similarly. One member of each pair was trained in a violent action game — Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, while the other member was trained with Ballance, a 3-D puzzle game. They played their respective games for ten hours over a four-week period, then tested again.

....While men scored better than women before training, after playing Medal of Honor both women and men improved significantly. The difference between males and females after the training was not significant — the gap between women and men was almost completely erased. Even more impressively, the researchers retested both groups five months later and found that both groups were still performing as well as they had right after training. The group playing Ballance showed no significant gains.

Now, the sample size here is pretty minuscule: five pairs of men and five pairs of women. So it's best not to get too excited by this. Still, as a male with sucky visuospatial skills I find this encouraging. If I buy a PlayStation and use it for an hour a day, will I stop getting lost whenever I'm more than five miles from home?

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Kevin Drum 12:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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All the game playing in the world will not prevent men from getting lost. And all the game playing in the world will still not teach men how to ASK FOR DIRECTIONS when they get lost.

It's fundamental physics!

Posted by: optical weenie on July 8, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Volunteer at a local shelter, hospital, orphanage or nursing home. Much better use of your hour.

Posted by: steve duncan on July 8, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Get an Xbox instead, you can play Halo, much better story.

Posted by: Polonius19 on July 8, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

A tidbit I recall from somewhere is that memory is tied to emotion - and stress is an emotion. That's why, I suspect, the intense game-players picked up the spatial relationship the others didn't even though both games required it.

Posted by: Kirk on July 8, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think I read somewhere that girls who play ball sports (softball, basketball etc)from a relatively young age do as well in math as boys. Something about throwing and catching a ball develops the brain in ways that help with sorting out math problems.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 8, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

If I buy a PlayStation and use it for an hour a day, will I stop getting lost whenever I'm more than five miles from home?

Yes. Because you will never leave your home: you will become a slave to the gaming console (like the rest of us...)

Posted by: rusrus on July 8, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

My wife got through o-chem by playing Tetris. Yea, visuospatial skills can be taught.

Posted by: Mark on July 8, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

"If buy a PlayStation and use it for an hour a day, will I stop getting lost whenever I'm more than five miles from home?"


Games are also the keys to eternal youth.

Posted by: omonubi on July 8, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

As part of my job I regularly do CAD (computer aided design). This involves building three dimensional parts and assemblies on the computer, and then generating old fashion 2D drawings from them. On good days it’s like getting paid to play video games. One interesting thing I have noticed is that I can be totally immersed in creating a 3D structure and still listen to the news or carry on a separate discussion with near normal comprehension. Thinking spatially tasks one side of the brain, but apparently leaves the other verbal side free to parallel process.

Posted by: fafner1 on July 8, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK
If I buy a PlayStation and use it for an hour a day, will I stop getting lost whenever I'm more than five miles from home?

I promise you'll stop getting lost when you're five miles from home if you start paying attention to landmarks. Likewise, I doubt that there are big differences in people's innate abilities at Playstation. I think some people are interested, and others aren't.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on July 8, 2008 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

You should improve quite a bit, Kevin. It's actually quite a robust effect, and this isn't the only study to demonstrate it. This just happens to be the first one to demonstrate a reduction in the gender gap, which isn't the issue so much for you.

This also means that your concerns about sample size might be unfounded -- since the (non-gendered) effect is replicated in studies with much larger samples, there really seems to be something to this notion that certain types of video games improve visuospatial skills.

Although this study didn't examine navigation skills, navigation is another ability that definitely seems to improve after training in virtual environments.

Posted by: Dave Munger on July 8, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, all, there’s a big difference between the quasi-metaphysical storytelling of Evolutionary Psychology (with caps) versus the legitimate, evolutionary biology-driving evolutionary psychology.

I cover the basics of the difference between Ev Psych and ev psych here, based in fair degree on the writings of philosopher of science David Buller, which he explains in further detail in this Scientific American interview.

Beyond the SciAm interview, if you want more of the naked emperor being exposed, Buller also has a good book.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 8, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Forgot the rest of my post:

Among the worst of Ev Psych, which I note here, is a strain of utopianism.

Sidenote: While the correlation isn’t one-to-one, Ev Psychers tend to trend toward strong libertarian bents politically.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 8, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm wondering if this games playing will improve Inkblot's visuospatial skills to the point where he will actually be able to use his whirling paws of death against Domino in a more effective manner than he seems capable of now.

Posted by: optical weenie on July 8, 2008 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

You might want to check out the excellent series by Amanda Schaeffer in Slate over last week and this questioning a lot of the "research" into gender differences.

Posted by: lou on July 8, 2008 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

I think it depends on the Inkblot tangent of the death-paw whirl.

Posted by: thersites on July 8, 2008 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

Far be it from me to stick up for a guy that's called me a fascist, but why does Horsefly get away with constantly pimping his blog, and Swan gets crap for it?

Posted by: the wisdom of swan on July 8, 2008 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

One word: breadcrumbs.

Posted by: Hiram Cross on July 8, 2008 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

If you really want to bend your brain play Portal. It forces you to think of viewing the same geometry from two different frames of reference at the same time. Now you're thinking with portals.

Posted by: bago on July 8, 2008 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

WoS: Because I have more interesting things to say, on a greater variety of topics, than Swan? He's never written on the Ev Psych/ev psych distinction now, has he?

From atheism through Beethoven, the (St. Louis) Cardinals, drug addiction, embryonic twins, Frisbee golf, Green Party/Glen Canyon Dam/Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hume, impeachment, Judaism and Kevorkian, past SCATblogging all the way down to Zeus, it's on my blog.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 9, 2008 at 5:33 AM | PERMALINK

See? It's not wasting your whole day playing some stupid game. It's visuospatial therapy.

Posted by: Aatos on July 9, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I found this blog on a google search and boy am I glad I did. I thought I heard someone mention it in a free chat room.
Awesome read!

Posted by: Free Chat on July 20, 2008 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK
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