Sex Roles, Vol. 51, Nos. 11/12, December 2004 (
Site Distance, Gender, and Knowledge of Geographic Sites
Debra L. Palmer,
and Christy R. Miller
The primary purpose of the experiments presented in this report was to study systematically
the geographic site-name, associative memory of male and female college students (predom-
inantly White and middle class) for locations that varied in distance: local, national, and in-
ternational sites. In the ﬁrst experiment, participants were to match listed names of campus
buildings and local cities with their marked locations on maps. In the second experiment,
under a site-name memory, a site-name/map-aid memory, and a map-aid/name-aid memory
(site-name associative memory) condition, participants were to recall or match as many of
the 50 US states and the 25 largest US cities as they could. In the third experiment, the partic-
ipants were to match a listed grouping of the world’s largest bodies of water and continents,
a set of countries, and the world’s largest cities, with their marked locations on maps. In the
ﬁrst experiment, men matched signiﬁcantly more local cities than did women; in the second
experiment, men recalled signiﬁcantly more of the cities under the site-name/map-aid and
the map-aid/name-aid memory conditions than did women; and in the third experiment, men
matched signiﬁcantly more sites on all three maps than did women. The absence of gender
differences for campus buildings and states may have been a product of the participants hav-
ing had extensive opportunities to learn these sites. That men displayed greater knowledge of
cities and international sites suggests that they have a greater interest in geography than do
women. Because of the limitations of the methodology used, the gender differences favoring
men could not be interpreted as primarily a product of nature or of nurture, and thus it was
concluded that they were a joint product of nature and nurture.
KEY WORDS: spatial memory; gender differences; geography.
Research (Harris, 1981; Linn & Peterson, 1985;
Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden,
1995) suggests that men match or outperform women
on a variety of spatial perception tasks: mental rota-
tion, rod-and-frame, water level, embedded ﬁgures,
spatial relations, block design, and geographic tasks.
The three studies in this report are based on posters pre-
sented at the Southeastern Psychological Association Conven-
tions: Atlanta, 1997; Mobile, 1998; and Savannah, 1999.
East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee.
Present address: University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point,
Present address: Coker College, South Carolina.
The coauthors conducted the ﬁrst two experiments.
To whom correspondence should be addressed: Psychology
Department, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City,
Tennessee 37604; e-mail: Zinsero@mail.etsu.edu.
For some time, it has been reported that American
youth (Cross, 1987; Helgren, 1983; Williams, 1952)
lack geographic knowledge; moreover, some also
have reported (Cross, 1987) that female students lag
behind male students in this regard. More recently,
Bein (1990) administered the National Council for
Geographic Education (NCGE) Competency-Based
Geography Test, which is composed of map skill,
place-name identiﬁcation, and physical geography
items, and found that among the entire sample, men
did better, and among travelers, men also did better
than women. These studies and others indicate that
men and boys frequently tested higher in geographic
knowledge. What accounts for the gender difference
in geographic knowledge? In broad terms, nature
and nurture have been cited as explanations of the
reported gender differences.
2004 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.