hole punch tests

hole punch test

julie: I think biological differences btw men and women are exaggerated.
me: But they *are* different. e.g. men have better spatial orientation.
julie: what?! that’s bullshit.
me: no, on standardized tests, they fold these sheets of paper up, punch holes in them, and then ask you what they look like unfolded.
julie: blah blah they look like a bunch of holes.
me: see, that’s the woman answer.
julie: I bet a man wrote that test.
me: Obviously. We’re not going to trust women with their crappy visualization to write our punch-hole tests.

More or less. I am ever watchful against the zeal of neofeminists to mow down mountains in order to make a level playing field. However, in this case, I should perhaps clarify what I think is useful about these tests. In the 1980s, among hair bands and regrettable pop music, there was a trend in standardized intelligence tests that emphasized punching holes in folded pieces of paper and rotating shapes as the sole arbiter of spatial cognition. Mostly by the ETS, the same scam artists who run the SAT/ACT/GRE pyramid scheme. I can only find one example online, on a dental admission test thanks to Google Books, but trust me, these used to be all the rage in bullshit academic circles.

Thankfully, someone has already done the hard work of writing a Ph.D. thesis about gender differences in spatial cognition using these tests. The newly doctored Ho Chun-Heng has described three popular tests in Section 3.1, including the much-vaunted hole punch test (which tests spatial visualization) and the card rotation test (which tests speeded rotation). I stand corrected. There is no significant difference between genders in spatial visualization, but among design majors, there is a gender gap for speeded rotation. This suggests that on average, in a population of men and women pre-selected for spatial interests and abilities, men will better be able to turn screws facing away from them, give directions from an upside-down map, and play Tetris.

Julie is correct that these tests are probably written by men and have an inherent bias for tasks for which men may be better adapted biologically. So the use of the word “intelligence” here is loaded and misleading. While I consider all of my statements above as true, they are not the complete truth. I have a continuing interest in identifying particular tests or mental tasks which show a gender difference in the opposite direction (i.e. women score higher than men). Gender differences in mental tasks should be not be invented where they do not exist. However, ignoring differences when evidence suggests otherwise would only maintain the status quo in educational methods.

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~ by Paul Pham on 14 October 2007.

One Response to “hole punch tests”

  1. Leaving semantics of the word ‘intelligence’ aside there is some research into the subject, although I’m not aware of whether or not it focuses on gender.

    Referred to as the “theory of multiple intelligences” by Howard Gardner in 1983 in his book “Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” Gardner posits the idea that intelligence is far to complex to be represented along one dimension. ‘Visual-spatial’ intelligence is but one of eight such intelligences outlined.

    I think that Gardner overreaches himself when he tries to outline the different areas in a (presumably) exhaustive manner, but the underlying concept is interesting nonetheless. It’s certainly all the rage right now in the field of education, in any case.

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