Sex differences in visual-spatial working memory: A meta-analysis
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Visual-spatial working memory measures are widely used in clinical and experimental settings. Furthermore, it has been argued that the male advantage in spatial abilities can be explained by a sex difference in visual-spatial working memory. Therefore, sex differences in visual-spatial working memory have important implication for research, theory, and practice, but they have yet to be quantified. The present meta-analysis quantified the magnitude of sex differences in visual-spatial working memory and examined variables that might moderate them. The analysis used a set of 180 effect sizes from healthy males and females drawn from 98 samples ranging in mean age from 3 to 86 years. Multilevel meta-analysis was used on the overall data set to account for non-independent effect sizes. The data also were analyzed in separate task subgroups by means of multilevel and mixed-effects models. Results showed a small but significant male advantage (mean d = 0.155, 95 % confidence interval = 0.087-0.223). All the tasks produced a male advantage, except for memory for location, where a female advantage emerged. Age of the participants was a significant moderator, indicating that sex differences in visual-spatial working memory appeared first in the 13-17 years age group. Removing memory for location tasks from the sample affected the pattern of significant moderators. The present results indicate a male advantage in visual-spatial working memory, although age and specific task modulate the magnitude and direction of the effects. Implications for clinical applications, cognitive model building, and experimental research are discussed.
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