It is well-established that, on average, men outperform women on a spatial reasoning task known as mental rotation -- imagining multi-dimensional objects from different points of view.
Men are not, however, born with this advantage, suggests a major meta-analysis by psychologists at Emory University.
Instead, males gain a slight advantage in mental-rotation performance during the first years of formal schooling, and this advantage slowly grows with age, tripling in size by the end of adolescence.
"Some researchers have argued that there is an intrinsic gender difference in spatial reasoning -- that boys are naturally better at it than girls," says lead author Jillian Lauer, who is set to graduate from Emory in May with a PhD in psychology.
"While our results don't exclude any possibility that biological influences contribute to the gender gap, they suggest that other factors may be more important in driving the gender difference in spatial skills during childhood."
Co-authors of the paper include Stella Lourenco, associate professor of psychology at Emory, whose lab specializes in the development of spatial and numerical cognition.