Spatial visualization refers to the ability to think in three dimensions and mentally maneuver two or three-dimensional images. Professionals may use this skill, but it can also be used in daily life. You may have used spatial visualization if you have used a map to get somewhere, played with Legos, or organized items in a drawer. To understand this skill further, looking at what it means, how to use it, and what it means when you struggle to visualize can be helpful.
All About Spatial Visualization
People have unique strengths. Some people may be gifted athletes, while others can sight-read music. Maybe you are particularly skilled at trigonometry, comforting your friends, or telling stories. Your skills can give insights into personality.
Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, referred to these strengths as different forms of intelligence. Gardner believed that how people think and interact could be separated into nine official categories. These categories range from musical to logical or spatial ability and encompass people's talents and interests.
For instance, if someone is skilled at dancing, it may make sense to believe they have heightened bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Others, however, may be more difficult to discern. For instance, visual-spatial intelligence often confuses people. However, like the other intelligence proposed by Gardner, visual-spatial intelligence translates various day-to-day skills. One of these is spatial visualization.
Careers That May Use Spatial Visualization
Engineers are one example of professionals who may use spatial visualization every day. Some schools require students to take a spatial visualization assessment before enrolling in an engineering program. Similarly, some engineering programs include seminars to help students enhance their spatial visualization skills.
Engineering can be broken down into several sub-disciplines. However, on a basic level, engineering is about designing, developing, and improving products. Civil engineers might design tunnels or bridges, while mechanical engineers develop machines and appliances. Engineers consider how to turn their two-dimensional design into a three-dimensional object, so spatial visualization can be crucial.
Although spatial visualization is often paired with science and math, other professions also use spatial visualization. For example, artists and graphic designers might use the same spatial visualization skills engineers rely on to plan projects and implement them.
When creating art, artists might use spatial visualization to determine how three-dimensional objects should look next to each other. What size something is, what it looks like from a specific angle, and how it should look compared to environmental stimuli can all draw on spatial visualization skills. Other professionals who may use spatial visualization daily include architects, geologists, surgeons, and photographers, among others.
Everyday Uses Of Spatial Visualization
People can use spatial visualization outside of a professional setting, as well. For example, you might use this skill when buying build-it-yourself furniture. Available in the box and ready to assemble, flat-pack furniture often comes with picture-heavy directions. Building your furniture may seem complicated. However, aside from the little wrenches that may come in the package, spatial visualization is the primary tool you can use to complete your furniture.
Like putting together furniture, following directions often requires spatial visualization. For example, using a map can be considered a spatial activity. You must look at the map and determine how the two-dimensional image applies to your physical environment.
Sewing clothing from a pattern may also use this skill. To sew a shirt, for instance, you might look at a drawing of a clothing item and think about how to bring that drawing to life. Likewise, making the garment the correct size can require spatial visualization skills.
Another example of spatial organization is organizing groceries in a car's trunk, packing a suitcase, or putting away clothes in a closet. Spatial visualization can allow you to visualize tasks mentally to make them a reality.
How Is Spatial Visualization Assessed?
Because spatial visualization can be necessary in the workplace and daily life, psychologists have created tests to assess this skill. Sometimes completed in schools, universities, or workplaces, these tests may show how developed your spatial abilities are.
Universities (particularly engineering programs) often have their own unique spatial visualization tests. These tests look at students' readiness to enter their specific program. In some cases, the university may suggest that students with lower scores enroll in a spatial visualization course. Below are a few courses that might be used.
Mental Rotation Test
A mental rotation test presents the test-taker with several shapes. One of the shapes is designated as the goal. Participants must then choose which shape could be rotated to match the goal shape. In digital tests, the test-taker may need to rotate the shape to match the goal.
Mental Cutting Test
The mental cutting test presents the participant with an object. The object is then "cut." The participant must decide which of the provided options would match the shape if cut.
The Form Board Test
The form board test works similarly to a tangram puzzle. Participants use smaller shapes to fill a larger given shape correctly.
The Surface Development Test
Test-takers determine how a flat shape might match a three-dimensional shape by identifying corresponding sides in the surface development test. A common form of this involves a cube, although more challenging shapes are often used.
The Paper Folding Test
The paper folding test requires participants to match a folded piece of paper with holes to an unfolded piece of paper. To succeed, participants must mentally manipulate the piece of paper.
Improving Spatial Visualization Skills
If you are not skilled at spatial visualization, you're not alone. Although some people may be naturally better at spatial visualization, anyone can improve this skill. Howard Gardner stressed that different types of intelligence can be learned, developed, or improved, and there are many ways to start.
One way to learn spatial visualization is through methods that are often enjoyable activities, like games or hobbies, that some people already partake in. According to researchers, video games can improve spatial visualization skills. Studies have found that action video games, in particular, can help people improve their spatial abilities.
Because video games involve moving through three-dimensional environments or manipulating three-dimensional objects, they can serve as a training ground for spatial visualization skills. However, a less-developed video game, like Tetris, can also profoundly impact a person's spatial abilities.
Artistic hobbies, like drawing, sculpting, or origami, can also hone a person's spatial awareness. Like a professional artist may use spatial visualization, you can practice thinking about two and three-dimensional objects while drawing. Sculpting or making miniature models can also be effective.
Playing chess or putting together puzzles may also enhance your spatial visualization skills. Tangrams, puzzles that use the same seven shapes to form pictures, can also involve your spatial abilities.
Other Ways To Pursue Self-Improvement
Some people find spatial visualization extremely difficult. Switching between two and three-dimensional objects and then maneuvering those objects can require mental discipline. Similarly, seeking mental health care can seem daunting and require mental effort. Like improving your spatial abilities, however, you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional about spatial awareness and other mental tasks.
Even if mental healthcare seems out of reach, you may be able to seek professional support for your concerns through online platforms like BetterHelp. Online forms of treatment can be beneficial if you seek ways to improve your spatial visualization, address mental health concerns, or enhance your quality of life through self-improvement and self-care. It can also save you time and money that you might otherwise dedicate to commuting, childcare, and other expenses that can come with in-person appointments.
Research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy in reducing unwanted mental health symptoms and improving quality of life. An online therapist can provide guidance and advice for setting goals or finding the right resources for your life, including ways to boost your spatial visualization skills.
What is an example of spatial visualization?
Spatial visualization abilities are used in a variety of tasks. One fairly common task that draws on spatial skills and spatial thinking is reading a map. Maps are almost always presented in two-dimensional form, whether on paper or on your smartphone, and you then have to translate a two-dimensional route into a three-dimensional reality, which requires spatial cognition and spatial reasoning.
How do I learn spatial visualization?
It is believed that spatial visualization ability, to a certain extent, might be inherent - some people may naturally be better spatial visualizers than others. However, such individual differences can be mitigated by practicing and learning spatial visualization. Spatial visualization courses are often offered by universities to students seeking degrees in fields that require more advanced understanding of spatial reasoning, such as engineering.
What is spatial visualization intelligence?
Spatial visualization intelligence refers to a person’s spatial visualization ability, much like the phrase “emotional intelligence” refers to a person’s ability to understand and interpret other people’s emotional responses.
Why is spatial visualization important?
Spatial visualization is important because it is a requirement for a number of day-to-day tasks in most people’s lives. Even something as simple as organizing your kitchen pantry can involve aspects of spatial visualization.
What are the signs of a person with a high spatial intelligence?
A person with high levels of visual-spatial ability will likely demonstrate higher levels of test performance on a number of cognitive tests designed to assess spatial visualization. They may work in a field that draws on their spatial skills, such as engineering or city planning. They might have creative hobbies based on spatial reasoning, like drawing, sculpting, or other forms of visual art.
Why do I have poor spatial awareness?
Current research is undecided as to what may be the cause of lower spatial abilities. Some research indicates that spatial awareness may be related to age. One study found that older adults typically have lower levels of spatial ability than younger adults. Another study, published in the International Journal of Special Education, examined neurodivergence as it relates to spatial skills. The study’s data indicated that students on the autism spectrum typically displayed an advantage in spatial visualization as compared to neurotypical students. Other studies argue that decreased spatial awareness may be a result of certain kinds of brain damage, such as strokes or traumatic brain injuries in areas of the brain associated with spatial development.
What are the signs of a lack of spatial intelligence?
Spatial intelligence is typically measured based on a person’s performance on spatial visualization tests. Poor performance on these tests is generally accepted as an indication of decreased spatial intelligence. Other indicators of lower spatial intelligence include difficulty with tasks involving spatial reasoning, such as reading maps, fitting objects together, or drawing.
Is spatial intelligence rare?
Spatial intelligence is not measured as often as other forms of intelligence are, so it is difficult to ascertain how prevalent high levels of spatial intelligence may be in the general population. As an example, linguistic intelligence and logical intelligence are regularly assessed in adolescents through widely accepted standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, but such tests do not assess spatial intelligence.
What are good visual-spatial skills?
Examples of visual-spatial skills include drawing, catching a ball in midair, solving tactile puzzles, and building structures.
What does a high spatial IQ mean?
The concept of an IQ, or intelligence quotient, can be controversial. It is unlikely that any one number or measurement could adequately summarize a person’s intelligence. Many spatial reasoning tests have been designed to assess spatial skills, but no one test has been designated as a standardized option for measuring “spatial IQ.”
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