Verde, Piccardi, Bianchini, Trivellioni, Guariglia and Tomao (2013) conducted a research into the mental rotation abilities of pilots and non-pilots, for both genders. The main interest was to compare these abilities between male and female, in the two categories pilots and non-pilots. Participants undertook two separate tasks: the Mental Rotation Task (MRT) in which lower times represent faster mental rotation, and the Sense-of-Direction task (SOD) in which higher scores represent a higher self-reflection of one's mental rotation abilities.
This article summarises the results from the research, and presents them in a more user-friendly form for the reader.
Illustration 1 displays that male particants had more enhanced mental rotation skills, as shown by the significantly lower reaction times in the Mental Rotation Task (MRT) (p<0.01) and higher sense-of-direction (SOD) scores (p<0.001). These results also support the study of Collins and Kimura (1997) which concluded that men tend to have higher mental rotation skills than women, on both a two-dimensional and three-dimensional level.
Another key element of the study was to compare the mental rotation skills of pilots and non-pilots. The results are shown in Illustration 2, and convey that pilots are more skilled than non-pilots, again with significantly lower MRT times (p<0.001) and significantly higher SOD scores (p<0.001).
Illustration 3 divides male and female participants into the subcategories pilots and non-pilots, to compare the results within each gender. As shown, for both males and females, pilots had faster response times in the MRT, and higher scores in the SOD on significant levels (p<0.001). An interesting point which can be observed from this illustration, is the fact that there is no significant difference between the results of male pilots and female pilots, which contradicts the conclusion drawn from Illustration 1 that males had superior mental rotation skills than females.
From the results displayed in the illustrations above, some conclusions can be drawn about this study. The level of mental rotation differed significantly between pilots and non-pilots, with pilots on the superior end. This could be attributable to the specialised training and experience of pilots, which enhance these skills above the average level. The results also conveyed that males had more enhanced mental rotation abilities than females, yet this did not apply to pilots. This points to the possibility that the training and experience of pilots override, and eliminate the basic difference in mental rotation skills between men and women.
1. Verde, P., Piccardi, L., Bianchini, F., Trivellioni, P., Guariglia, C., Tomao, E. (2013). Gender Effects on Mental Rotation in Pilots vs. Nonpilots. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 2013, volume 84, number 7, pages 726-729
2. Collins, D, W., Kimura, D. (1997). A large sex difference on a two-dimensional mental rotation task. (1997). Behavioral Neuroscience, Vol 111, number 4, pages 845-849