Getting by with a Little Help from My Friends: Mental Rotation Ability after Tacit Peer Encouragement


We examined how Mental Rotation (MR) ability was improved by presenting information that the task was one that could be accomplished. This information purportedly came from either peers or the experimenter. Men and women students completed 10 MR items from the Purdue Visualization of Rotations Test (Bodner & Guay, 1997) and provided self-reports about their confidence in their abilities to perform rotations, background skills and experiences, and effort with the task. The peer-presentation technique improved performance on MR, as both men and women who read that other students had previously managed the tasks performed better than those who merely heard about the tasks, leaving an implied difficulty unaddressed or “in the air.” When self-reported confidence in MR ability was held constant there were no gender differences in MR performance. The results suggest that appropriate peer models may improve performance on cognitive tasks, perhaps by increasing confidence in ability.

Share and Cite:

Brownlow, S. , Janas, A. , Blake, K. , Rebadow, K. & Mello, L. (2011). Getting by with a Little Help from My Friends: Mental Rotation Ability after Tacit Peer Encouragement. Psychology, 2, 363-370. doi: 10.4236/psych.2011.24057.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Ambady, N., Shih, M., Kim, A., & Pittinsky, T. L. (2001). Stereotype susceptibility in children: Effects of identity activation on quantitative performance. Psychological Science, 12, 385-390. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00371
[2] Aronson, J., Fried, D. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113-125. doi:10.1006/jesp.2001.1491
[3] Aronson, J., Lustina, M. J., Good, C., Keough, K., Steele, C. M., & Brown, J. (1999). When white men can’t do math: Necessary and sufficient factors in stereotype threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 29-46. doi:10.1006/jesp.1998.1371
[4] Baenninger, M., & Newcombe, N. (1989). The role of experience in spatial test performance: A meta-analysis. Sex Roles, 20, 327-344. doi:10.1007/BF00287729
[5] Balentine, C. B., & Brownlow, S. (2006). Does making salient task relevance to group affiliation decrease the performance of men athletes on spatial tasks? Psi Chi Journal, 11, 37-44.
[6] Bodner, G. M., & Guay, R. B. (1997). The purdue visualization of rotations test. The Chemical Educator, 2, 118. doi:10.1007/s00897970138a
[7] Brodish, A. B., & Devine, P. G. (2009). The role of performance-avoidance goals and worry in mediating the relationship between stereotype threat and performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 180-185. doi:10.1016/j/jesp.2008.08.005
[8] Brown, R. P., & Josephs, R. A. (1999). A burden of proof: Stereotype relevance and gender differences in math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 246-257. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.76.2.246
[9] Brownlow, S., McPheron, T. K., & Acks, C. N. (2003). Science background and spatial abilities in men and women. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 12, 371-380. doi:10.1023/B:JOST.0000006297.90536.7c
[10] Brownlow, S., & Miderski, C. A. (2002). How gender and college chemistry experience influence mental rotation abilities. Themes in Education, 3, 133-140.
[11] Brownlow, S., Valentine, S. E., & Owusu, A. (2008). Women athletes’ mental rotation under stereotypic threat. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 107, 307-336. doi:10.2466/pms.107.1.307-316
[12] Cadinu, M., Maass, A., Frigerio, S., Impagliazzo, L., & Latinotti, S. (2003). Stereotype threat: The effect of expectancy on performance. European Journal of Psychology, 33, 267-285.
[13] Carr, P. B., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Stereotype threat and inflexible perseverance in problem solving. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 853-859. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.03.003
[14] Cheryan, S., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2000). When positive stereotypes threaten intellectual performance: The psychological hazards of “model minority” status. Psychological Science, 11, 399-402. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00277
[15] Cherney, I. D. (2008). Mom, let me play more computer games: They improve my mental rotation skills. Sex Roles, 59, 776-786. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9498-z
[16] Cherney, I. D., & Collaer, M. L. (2005). Sex differences in line judgment: Relationship to mathematics preparation and strategy use. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 100, 615-627. doi:10.2466/PMS.100.3.615-627
[17] Croizet, J.-C., & Claire, T. (1998). Extending the concept of stereotype threat to social class: The intellectual underperformance of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 588-594. doi:10.1177/0146167298246003
[18] Davies, P. G., Spencer, S. J., Quinn, D. M., & Gerhardstein, R. (2002). Consuming images: How television commercials that elicit stereotype threat can restrain women academically and professionally. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1615-1628. doi:10.1177/014616702237644
[19] Else-Quest, N. M., Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (2010). Cross-national patterns of gender differences in mathematics: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 103-127.
[20] doi:10.1177/014616702237644
[21] Goldstein, D., Haldane, D., & Mitchell, C. (1990). Sex differences in visual-spatial ability: The role of performance factors. Memory and Cognition, 18, 546-550. doi:10.3758/BF03198487
[22] Gonzalez, P. M., Blanton, H., & Williams, K. J. (2002). The effects of stereotype threat and double minority status on the test performance of Latino women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 656-670.
[23] Gresky, D. M., Ten Eyck, L. L., Lord, C. G., & McIntyre, R. B. (2005). Effects of salient multiple identities on women’s performance under mathematics stereotype threat. Sex Roles, 53, 703-716. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-7735-2
[24] Kass, S. J., Ahlers, R. H., & Dugger, M. (1998). Eliminating gender differences through practice in an applied visual space task. Human Performance, 11, 337-349. doi:10.1207/s15327043hup1104_3
[25] Keller, J. (2002). Blatant stereotype threat and women’s math performance: Self-handicapping as a strategic means to cope with obtrusive negative performance expectations. Sex Roles, 47, 193-198. doi:10.1023/A:1021003307511
[26] Keller, J., & Dauenheimer, D. (2003). Stereotype threat in the classroom: Dejection mediates the disrupting threat effect on women’s math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 371-381. doi:10.1177/0146167202250218
[27] Koenig, A. M., & Eagly, A. H. (2005). Stereotype threat in men on a test of social sensitivity. Sex Roles, 52, 489-496. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-3714-x
[28] Lesko, A. C., & Corpus, J. H. (2006). Discounting the difficult: How high math-identified women respond to stereotype threat. Sex Roles, 54, 113-125. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-8873-2
[29] Marx, D. M., & Roman, J. S. (2002). Female role models: Protecting women’s math test performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1183-1193. doi:10.1177/01461672022812004
[30] McIntyre, R. B., Paulson, R. M., & Lord, C. G. (2003). Alleviating women’s mathematic stereotype threat through salience of group achievements. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 83-90. doi:10.1016/S0022-1031(02)00513-9
[31] Newcombe, N., Bandura, M. M., & Taylor, D. G. (1983). Sex differences in spatial ability and spatial activities. Sex Roles, 9, 377-385. doi:10.1007/BF00289672
[32] O’Brien, L. T., & Crandall, C. S. (2003). Stereotype threat and arousal: Effects on women’s math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 782-289.
[33] Oswald, D. L., & Lindstedt, K. (2006). The content and function of gender self-stereotypes: An exploratory investigation. Sex Roles, 54, 447-458. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9026-y
[34] Resnick, S. M. (1993). Sex differences in mental rotations: An effect of time limits? Brain and Cognition, 21, 71-79. doi:10.1006/brcg.1993.1005
[35] Roberts, J. A., & Bell, M. A. (2000). Sex differences on a computerized mental rotation task disappear with computer familiarization. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91, 1027-1034. doi:10.2466/PMS.91.7.1027-1034
[36] Scali, R. M., Brownlow, S., & Hicks, J. L. (2000). Gender differences in spatial task performance as a function of speed or accuracy orientation. Sex Roles, 43, 359-376. doi:10.1023/A:1026699310308
[37] Schmader, T. (2002). Gender identification moderates stereotype threat effects on women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 194-201. doi:10.1006/jesp.2001.1500
[38] Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Barquissau, M. (2004). The costs of accepting gender differences: The role of stereotype endorsement in women’s experience in the math domain. Sex Roles, 50, 835-850. doi:10.1023/B:SERS.0000029101.74557.a0
[39] Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Forbes, C. (2008). An integrated process model of stereotype threat effects on performance. Psychological Review, 115, 336-356. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.115.2.336
[40] Seibt, B. F., & F?rster, J. (2004). Stereotype threat and performance: How self-stereotypes influence processing by inducing regulatory foci. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 38-56. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.1.38
[41] Sekaquaptewa, D., & Thompson, D. (2003). Solo status, stereotype threat, and performance expectancies: Their effects on women’s performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 68-74. doi:10.1016/S0022-1031(02)00508-5
[42] Shapiro, J. R. (2011). Different groups, different threats: A mulit-threat approach to the experience of stereotype threats. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 464-480. doi:10:1177/0146167211398140
[43] Shapiro, J. R., & Neuberg, S. L. (2007). From stereotype threat to stereotype threats: Implications of a multi-threat framework for causes, moderators, mediators, consequences, and interventions. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 107-130. doi:10.1177/1088868306294790
[44] Sharps, M. J., Price, J. L., & Williams, J. K. (1994). Spatial cognition and gender: Instructional and stimulus influences on mental image rotation performance. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 413-425. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1994.tb00464.x
[45] Shih, M., Ambady, N., Richeson, A. J., Fujita, K., & Gray, H. M. (2002). Stereotype performance boosts: The impact of self-relevance and the manner of stereotype activation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 638-647. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.83.3.638
[46] Shih, M., Pittinsky, T. L., & Ambady, N. (1999). Stereotype susceptibility: Identity salience and shifts in performance. Psychological Science, 10, 80-83. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00111
[47] Smith, J. L. (2006). The interplay among stereotypes, performance-avoidance goals, and women’s math performance expectations. Sex Roles, 54, 287-296. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9345-z
[48] Smith, J. L., & White, P. H. (2002). An examination of implicitly activated, explicitly activated, and nullified stereotypes on mathematical performance: It’s not just a women’s issue. Sex Roles, 47, 179-192. doi:10.1023/A:1021051223441
[49] Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28. doi:10.1006/jesp.1998.1373
[50] Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613-629. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.52.6.613
[51] Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. A. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.69.5.797
[52] Stone, J. (2002). Battling doubt by avoiding practice: The effects of stereotype threat on self-handicapping in white athletes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1667-1678. doi:10.1177/014616702237648
[53] Stone, J., Lynch, C. I., Sjomeling, M., & Darley, J. M. (1999). Stereotype threat effects of Black and White athletic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1213-1227. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1213
[54] Voyer, D., & Isaacs, M. (1993, July). Sex differences in mental rotation: Role of practice and experience. Presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science, Toronto, Canada.
[55] Voyer, D., Nolan, C., & Voyer, S. (2000). The relation between everyday experience and spatial performance in men and women. Sex Roles, 43, 891-915. doi:10.1023/A:1011041006679
[56] Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250-270. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.2.250
[57] Walter, K. D., Roberts, A. E., & Brownlow, S. (2000). Sex differences in mental rotation and other spatial abilities as measured through transcranial doppler sonography. Journal of Psychophysiology, 14, 37-45. doi:10.1027//0269-8803.14.1.37
[58] Wraga, M., Helt, M., Jacobs, E., & Sullivan, K. (2006). Neural basis of stereotype-induced shifts in women’s mental rotation performance. Social Cognition and Affective Neuroscience, 2, 12-19. doi:10.1093/scan/nsl041

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.