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On the Magnitude of Laterality Effects and Sex Differences in Functional Lateralities

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In the last 20 years, the hypothesis that men and women differ in functional lateralities has been used to account for sex-related differences in verbal and spatial skills. However, this hypothesis has not been clearly supported, with some reviewers confirming it (McGlone, 1980 for example), and others rejecting it (Fairweather, 1982 for example). The purpose of the present study was to provide a definite test of this hypothesis and to estimate the magnitude of overall laterality effects by means of a meta-analytic procedure. A total of 396 significance levels from a variety of studies on functional asymmetries utilising auditory, visual, or tactile presentation of verbal or nonverbal stimuli were sampled. Results showed that laterality effects tend to be large and significant but that they are heterogeneous in the visual modality. Homogeneity was generally achieved by a partition of the studies in terms of the specific task used. The results also showed sex differences to be significant in two modalities (visual and auditory). The data indicated the presence of sex differences in favour of men in functional asymmetries. However, it appears that the findings are not resistant to the file drawer problem. The results are discussed with regard to their implications for explanations of individual differences in cognitive abilities. The relation between functional lateralities and anatomical asymmetries is also discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 1996

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