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Source: St. Mary's University

Understanding the Sexes through Psychology

November 7, 2006

The mental processes encompassing differences between the sexes have fuelled the research interests of soon to be Saint Mary’s graduate Melissa Gray, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Gray has completed her undergraduate thesis, which was an investigation of the influence of representation on mental rotation ability. The Mental Rotation Test (MRT) is a device often used as an aptitude test to estimate the capacity of three-dimensional thinking and spatial ability.

Researchers had found a male advantage, leading to the conclusion that males have superior mental rotation ability than females.

Gray’s efforts have challenged that particular notion. "My thesis examined the possibility that the abstract nature of the original line drawings (i.e. representation) on the MRT accounts for this sex difference," she says. "To investigate this possibility, 125 wooden models were created to replicate the original test."

In addition to the MRT inquiry at SMU, Gray has also been working for Dr. Maryanne Fisher, a professor of psychology at Saint Mary's, and her colleague Dr. Anthony Cox over the past year.

Gray says this experience has allowed her to spread her intellectual wings.

"During this time I have assisted with various projects on topics including gender, intrasexual competition and online learning and other projects concerning the psychology of computing, investigating topics such as attitudes about unsolicited email, communications technologies and education, and communications technologies as they relate to personal relationships," she says.

Another vital experience for Gray was The Human Behaviour and Evolution Society (which is an interdisciplinary and international society composed on researchers who use modern elocutionary theory to explain human behaviour) annual meeting in Philadelphia.

"Attending this conference was a great opportunity for me, as it allowed me to learn about the broad applications of evolutionary psychology and to directly witness current cutting edge research in the field. Additionally, I presented a poster on the results of my thesis research. This opportunity is quite rare for an undergraduate student. I found this experience to be quite valuable, as presenting a poster is interactive. I was able to talk about my research and get feedback from numerous researchers, including leading researchers in the field of my thesis topic."

Gray is actuated in part by the overriding relevance of her field. "I find evolutionary psychology appealing as a discipline because of the emphasis on the function of human behaviour. Researchers in this area seek to promote the survival of the human species. Additionally, various topics in evolutionary psychology such as mating behaviour are very alive in our modern world and can be seen in an abundance of common, everyday circumstances."

"Being a student at Saint Mary’s University has opened many doors for me academically and personally. By being part of the Co-operative Education program I was able to gain practical experience in relation to my degree," she says. "Additionally, I was able to meet Dr. Fisher, who I would later do more research with which continues up to the present time. As a result of this opportunity, I have discovered my skill and passion for conducting psychological research. I truly enjoy examining the causes and correlates of human behaviour and want to continue pursing this knowledge at the graduate level. Additionally, as a result of the smaller sized classrooms, I have been able to meet and speak with numerous professors who have offered me their knowledge and expertise on how to navigate through university and other areas of life."

Gray aspires to a Masters degree in the field of counselling psychology and is applying to a variety of schools, her first choice being the University of Alberta. "I would like to transfer the research skills I have gained to the applied field of counselling psychology. I am interested in examining the impact of self-imposed stress on university students, as well as investigating strategies that can be implemented to help students learn to overcome these difficulties."

Saint Mary's University is known for its community outreach projects, both in Canada and around the world. Saint Mary's, founded in 1802, is home to one of Canada's leading business schools, a Science Faculty widely known for its cutting-edge research, a comprehensive and innovative Arts Faculty and a vibrant Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research.


For More Information:

Paul Fitzgerald Public Affairs Officer Saint Mary's University, Public Affairs (902) 420.5514 E-mail:



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