Study of the Day: Want to Improve a Woman's Driving Skills? Flatter Her

New research from the University of Warwick shows that a woman's confidence clearly affects her ability to perform basic spatial tasks

main Polina Nefidova shutterstock_60607147.jpg

PROBLEM: Previous studies -- and far too many sexist jokes -- have discussed how women are not as skilled as men when it comes to tasks like parking and map-reading that require spatial awareness. University of Warwick psychologist Zachary Estes decided to find out if confidence could account for this gender difference.

METHODOLOGY: Together with University of Georgia Health Center's Sydney Felker, Estes recruited 545 students for four experiments involving a 3-D mental rotation task that measures a person's spatial skills. In one key trial, the authors manipulated each respondent's level of confidence by either complimenting or criticizing their performance in an unrelated exercise before administering this test.

RESULTS: When the scientists made women feel more confident about themselves, their ability to perform the mental rotation task improved.

CONCLUSION: Boosting a woman's confidence makes her better at spatial tasks.

IMPLICATION: Flattery helps. "Our research suggests that by making a woman feel better about herself, she'll become better at spatial tasks," says Estes in a statement. "So a little bit of confidence-boosting may go a long way when it comes to reversing the car into a tight parking spot."

SOURCE: The full study, "Confidence Mediates the Sex Difference in Mental Rotation Performance" (PDF), is published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image: Polina Nefidova/Shutterstock.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis. The only problem? He has to prove it works.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Health

Just In