A Longitudinal Study of Predictors of Spatial Ability in Adolescent Females


  • This research was supported by grant MH 39671 from the National Institute of Mental Health. We would like to thank Dawn Taylor and Lori Schwartz for their work in testing subjects, Robert Stern for allowing us to use space at Pennsylvania State University, the State College school system for help in locating subjects, Lance Weinmann for help with analyses, and the subjects for their participation. Portions of the data were presented at the Society for Research in Child Development meetings in 1987.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Nora Newcombe, Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122.


This study examined the longitudinal predictability of spatial ability in late-adolescent females by retesting 11-year-old girls studied by Newcombe and Bandura at age 16. Spatial ability at age 16 was predicted longitudinally from masculinity of the ideal self on a scale of intellectually relevant attributes at age 11, wanting to be a boy at age 11, and, negatively, by feminine expressivity at age 11. No timing of puberty or lateralization effects were observed. The findings strengthen evidence that sex-related differences in spatial ability could be experientially determined, and help to focus the search for exactly how this occurs. The findings also cast doubt on the idea that sex-related differences in spatial ability could be caused by sex differences in timing of puberty or lateralization, although other biological mechanisms remain plausible.