Introduction: Mental rotation ability has an important role in human navigation and, together with other cognitive abilities such as processing speed, working memory, and attention, is crucial for aircraft navigation. In the human performance literature, mental rotation tasks have con- sistently yielded reports of gender differences favoring men. The aim of this study was to compare the gender difference measured in a spe- cialized population of aviators vs. a matched population of nonpilots. Methods: Studied were 41 pilots (20 men and 21 women) and 38 nonpilots (20 men and 18 women) matched for age and education. Pilots were stratified for flying hours. Participants performed a mental rotation task (MRT) in which accuracy and response time were recorded, and also completed sense-of-direction (SOD) and spatial cognitive styles self- evaluation scales. Results: Men had significantly smaller response time in the MRT (men 279.6 6 147.0 s, women 401.6 6 361.3) and greater SOD (men’s score 49.1 6 8.6, women’s score 46.6 6 7.8), but these differ- ences were absent among pilots. A positive relationship was also identi- fied between pilots’ response times and their flight hours. Conclusion: These data suggest that the effect of gender on the speed of cognitive spatial processing is absent in a population with aviation experience. Gender effects may be associated with a low spatial cognitive style, whereas in groups such as aviators, who are expected to have high spa- tial cognitive style, other factors such as experience may come into play.
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