About this Research Topic
As Halpern, Kimura, and Mackintosh, among other authors, have suggested, there can be little doubt that males and females do differ in particular cognitive skills and that the precise nature of these differences is still an open question. For example, a test battery that emphasizes spatial and mathematical items will favor males, but one that emphasizes some aspects of language, perceptual speed, and memory will favor females. In the spatial domain it is well established that men and women differ on a wide variety of tasks (like route and map learning, computer based and/or virtual reality versions of the Morris pool, and experimental field studies). However, more important than this is the finding that they often show a difference in the cues used to solve these tasks. A crucial question to answer is how an environment is represented by men and by women. It has been suggested that women focus on factors related to personal, concrete representations of the environment (e.g., left-right and landmarks), whereas men focus on abstract factors related to a euclidean representation of the environment. Supporting the previous claims, many studies have found that men perform best when using euclidean information (like distances and directions), whereas women perform best when using features or landmark information (like buildings and other visual objects along a route -i.e., list learning). It has been suggested that the different strategies result from dimorphic exploration and encoding of spatial information by men and women.
A great number of experiments are consistent with the hypothesis that a sex difference in spatial tasks arises only when there is a difference between the sexes in range size. That difference arises largely because men hunted and women gathered. Let's keep in mind that our brains are essentially the same as those of our ancestors 50,000 years ago and more; and that men and women probably had different selection pressures. A critical question worth investigating is whether the supposed dimorphic attention in men and women, that seem to depend on ancestral selection pressures related to sex, can be modified due to experience.
The aim of this research topic is to address interdisciplinary approaches for the purpose of trying to improve girls and women cognitive abilities in the spatial domain. To help them improve in such domain, it would be important to offer affordable technology (low cost and easy to use). Specifically, we would like to include studies in this collection that could answer the following, and many more, questions:
- Could novel interventions (such as playing certain type of video games, virtual tasks…), alter or modulate the females’ preference for using landmark information to navigate?
- Would this lead to structural and/or functional brain changes, like an increase in grey matter in the hippocampus?
- Since IVR (immersive virtual reality) allows different types of interventions, such as gender exchange, time travel, or becoming a child, among many others, could it help to answer the previous questions?
- What are the environmental and psychological factors that contribute to sex differences in spatial abilities?
- Is it possible that a specific training in girls at a prepubertal age could result in a loss of preference for landmark information to solve spatial tasks after puberty?
Answering these questions is most important because, for example, low grey matter in the hippocampus is a serious risk factor for developing many neuropsychiatric illnesses, like Alzheimer’s disease; and clinical and pre-clinical studies have shown that women carry an increased risk of developing AD pathology compared to men, even after controlling for increased life span. Hopefully, the present research topic could help to counteract the unjustified practice of ignoring females for so many years in psychological and biomedical research.
Keywords: spatial abilities, virtual tasks, hippocampus, environmental and psychological factors, girls, women, Alzheimer's disease
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