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Do Humanities and Science Faculty Differ in Verbal & Visuospatial Working Memory Processes?

 George J. Spilich, Johanna Tole and Clarisse Habraken

Do individuals who have chosen careers in two disciplines which presumably rely on different cognitive abilities also differ in their performance on basic cognitive tasks which reflect those same capabilities? The performance of a mixed-gender group of senior faculty in English and in Chemistry were compared on two working memory tasks: the Sternberg STM scanning task and the Shepard & Cooper mental rotation task. The Sternberg task was assumed to be a reasonable index of verbal WM while the Shepard & Cooper mental rotation task was assumed to provide a reasonable measure of the type of visuospatial WM processes which are critical to success in Chemistry. Faculty members in the Departments of English and Chemistry did not differ reliably in RT and in accuracy to scan the contents of STM as measured by the Sternberg task. Members of the Chemistry Department were reliably quicker and more accurate than their counterparts in the English Department at manipulating visuospatial data as measured by the Shepard & Cooper task. These data may be interpreted in several ways. Individuals may be lead to specific career choices because of initial differences in innate talents, or practice at verbal or visuospatial tasks may differentially develop these same componential skills in individuals.


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