Gender differences in brain activation on a mental rotation task

Margaret Semrud-Clikeman, Jodene Goldenring Fine, Jesse Bledsoe, David C. Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Few neuroimaging studies have explored gender differences on mental rotation tasks. Most studies have utilized samples with both genders, samples mainly consisting of men, or samples with six or fewer females. Graduate students in science fields or liberal arts programs (20 males, 20 females) completed a mental rotation task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When a pair of cube figures was shown, the participant made a keypad response based on whether the pair is the same/similar or different. Regardless of gender, the bilateral middle frontal gyrus, bilateral intraparietal sulcus (IPS), and the left precuneus were activated when a subject tried to solve the mental rotation task. Increased activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus/middle frontal gyrus, the left precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex/cuneus region, and the left middle occipital gyrus was found for men as compared to women. Better accuracy and shorter response times were correlated with an increased activation in the bilateral intraparietal sulcus. No significant brain activity differences related to mental rotation were found between academic majors. These findings suggest that networks involved in visual attention appear to be more strongly activated in the mental rotation tasks in men as compared to women. It also suggests that men use a more automatic process when analyzing complex visual reasoning tasks while women use a more top-down process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)590-597
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • FMRI
  • Gender
  • Mental rotation


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