State Anxiety Influences Sex Differences in Spatial Learning


Past research shows consistent sex differences in survey-based spatial knowledge and wayfinding strategy. State anxiety may help to explain some of these differences. The current study tested if and how state anxiety influences sex differences in spatial learning during navigation. We used a virtual desktop spatial learning task and manipulated state anxiety between-subjects. Participants passively learned the locations of landmarks and then were tested using egocentric pointing and map landmark placement tasks. Results showed that males performed better than females overall, replicating past work. Further, state anxiety adversely affected pointing accuracy for females but not males. Males were more accurate in their cognitive maps and women’s cognitive maps appeared to be more spatially compressed than men’s across both anxiety conditions. Results are discussed in the context of how state anxiety might influence sex differences in the formation of survey representations dependent on spatial learning and assessment perspective.

In: Spatial Cognition XI, Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 244–257,