Spatial aptitude

Spatial Reasoning Tests

What is spatial reasoning?

Spatial reasoning is the ability to think about objects in both two and three dimensions, and visualise movement of those objects or deduce patterns between them. This aptitude, also known as spatial awareness, often focuses on rotation or disassembly of images, and can be improved with practice.


Spatial reasoning tests prove helpful in assessing a candidate’s capacity to interpret two and three-dimensional shapes. The employer will judge your ability to identify patterns or relationships between these shapes.

These tests allow you to visualise two and three-dimensional images in your mind, and mentally manipulate these images into the shape that you want.

The tests are frequently used by employers to evaluate technical and engineering job seekers and are largely conducted in technology sectors and in the military.

What are the types of spatial reasoning tests?

Every spatial reasoning test will contain a variety of different questions, all designed to test your ability to visualise and manipulate images in their 2D and 3D forms.

Have a read through these common types of questions and try a few out for yourself. It’s a great way to familiarise yourself with what you’ll need to know how to do, before taking a full mock test.

Shape matching

The shape matching or visual comparison questions will require you to examine two groups of different shapes in different layouts and rotations, before matching those that are the same.

It’s essentially a game of ‘pairs’ played at high speed, and it shows how comfortable you are with visualising two-dimensional objects.

A key thing to watch out for is reflected images, which are incorrect and often put in the test to make it extra challenging.

Group rotation

Mentally rotating shapes is one of the things you’ll need to demonstrate an aptitude for in the spatial reasoning test, either in two or three dimensions.

You’ll be shown a shape, and then lots of possible alternative views of the same shape — your job is to select the correct one.

Often the shapes will have an identifying marker such as a dot or square; the placement of the marker is important as it ultimately determines which answer is correct.

Cube views

You’ll be presented with three different views of a three-dimensional cube, with shapes or symbols on each face. You’ll then be asked questions about the symbols on the faces, to assess how capable you are at visualising shapes from all angles.

Mirror images

Just as it sounds, these questions require you to find the mirror image of the two- or three-dimensional shape you’re presented with.

If you find these questions tricky, it’s often possible to use logic to discount several possible answers quickly, leaving you with fewer potential correct answers.

Combining two-dimensional shapes

In this type of question you’ll be shown lots of 2D shapes, one of which has been cut up into pieces. You’ll be asked to look at the pieces and then work out which shape the pieces fit together to make.

Block counting

You’ll see a series of cubes made from blocks (but you won’t be able to see all of the blocks). The challenge is to work out how many blocks have been used to make the shape.

You’ll need to count blocks you cannot see, which is another means of testing your ability to visualise and mentally manipulate shapes.


Designed to assess your ability to take instructions and follow a map, these questions usually take the form of a two dimensional map or plan which you’ll be asked to navigate.

If you have a good sense of direction you may not find these questions challenging, but the trick here is to be accurate even under tight time pressure.

How to develop your spatial reasoning skills

Acing the spatial reasoning test always comes down to how well you’ve practised and prepared.

First, have a go at some practice tests. This is the best way to familiarise yourself with the question formats, the skills you’re being tested on and the speed at which you need to work.

Once you’ve had an initial go, make sure you do the rest of the tests in exam-style conditions to get used to working against the clock and in silence.

Once you’ve finished a test, go back through your answers and see how you’ve done. It’s important to give yourself credit for any correct answers, but it’s even more important to identify your weak spots.

For example, if you struggle with mirror images and don’t tend to get these questions right, you should dedicate extra time to working on them. You could also find alternative ways to get better at the questions, such as drawing shapes with a physical mirror to boost your ability to visualise reflections.

As well as improving your understanding, speed and accuracy, practising mock tests also helps to instil confidence that can be very useful if you’re feeling a little nervous on the day.



Spatial Ability Test

Spatial ability is the capacity to understand and remember the spatial relations among objects. In a spatial ability test (also called spatial reasoning test) you are required to mentally manipulate 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional figures.

What questions can I expect?
The questions found in a spatial ability test are often of a similar nature. Here's a list of the most common question types:

  • Cubes: You are given a flat (2-dimensional) pattern which can be folded into a cube. Amongst a number of 3-dimensional cubes you are to choose the one that 2-D pattern can be folded into.
  • Paper folding: In the question you are shown a paper being folded in steps. A hole is then punched one or more places through the folded paper. You are to find the answer option that correctly shows how the paper would look after being unfolded.
  • 2-D rotating figures: The question image is a drawn figure of some type. You are to find the figure that, after being rotated, is exactly the same as the figure in the question image.
  • 3-D rotating objects: The question image is a 3-dimensional object. You are to find the object that, after being rotated, is exactly the same as the object in the question image.
  • Mirroring: You are given a drawn figure in the question. You must find the answer that is a mirror image of the question figure. Mirroring can be both vertically and horizontally.
  • Assembling objects: You are given four or more parts of an object. You have to find the object that can be built with the parts. These questions can be either 3-dimensional or 2-dimensional.

Learn more about some of the question types by trying our free test. Get a Test Prep Account to practice on all of the question types mentioned above, and more, to improve your spatial ability.

Where are Spatial Ability tests used?
Spatial ability tests are used as part of the recruitment process of engineers, architects, chemists, mechanics, line assembly workers, and more. The tests are often a part of the school admission exam for education as architects, graphic designers, air traffic controllers, pilots, and more.

Spatial Ability Test Preparation

Practice Spatial Ability Test

Try a free spatial ability test.
This practice test contains 6 spatial ability test questions and has a time limit of 4 minutes.

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Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

What Are Spatial Ability Tests?

Spatial ability tests require you to use your cognitive ability to manipulate a 2 or 3 dimensional object to solve a question

Spatial aptitude tests often involve the visual assembly and the disassembly of objects that:

  • Have been rotated
  • Are viewed from different angles
  • Have different markings on their surfaces

These tests bear a superficial resemblance to abstract reasoning tests, as both types of test usually contain a series of pictorial figures, rather than words or numbers.

Spatial ability however, does not involve analysis and reasoning. It is purely a test of mental manipulation.

Which Employers Use Spatial Ability Tests?

Employers use spatial ability questions when a job involves drawings, plans or the manipulation of shapes.

These are usually technical and design jobs; for example, architecture, engineering, surveying and design.

It is also important in some branches of science and technology where the ability to envisage the interactions of three-dimensional components is essential.

If you are applying for a job in the military, police or emergency services, then you may be asked spatial ability questions to do with maps or street plans.

You will need to show that you understand directions as they appear on a map and that you can use the map to plan, follow or describe routes.

People who score poorly on this test may have a tough time making it in these fields:

  • An architect, for instance, needs to be able to mentally rotate shapes and objects to effectively cover every aspect of the plans they are responsible for.

  • Engineers need to be able to envision all of the moving parts of their plans to be sure that their plans are well developed.

Why Do Employers Use Spatial Ability Tests?

More and more employers, hiring managers and university officials are adding this test type into their application and screening process before hiring or accepting a person into a program or job position.

Employers find spatial ability tests useful for the following reasons:

  • They will identify candidates with the cognitive ability to perform the tasks of the job.
  • They identify a candidate’s mental and cognitive skills and their ability to solve complex problems and plans.
  • They are useful in narrowing down the pool of applicants.
  • They reduce the time involved in screening potential employees.

If a person performs poorly in a spatial ability test it may demonstrate that, while they are great in an interview, they may not be able to perform the duties of the job they are applying for.

What to Expect on a Spatial Ability Test

Spatial ability tests will present various types of questions designed to test your spatial reasoning ability.

As we discovered above, these tests are normally part of the recruitment process, either before interview to narrow down candidates, or at the end of the process, before a final hiring decision is made.

You will usually be asked to sit a spatial reasoning test on a computer, either at the employer’s premises, during an assessment center or at home, via a link that will be emailed to you.

The questions will be visual, a series of shapes or patterns, and the answers will be in multiple-choice format.

There will usually be a strict time limit applied to the test and you won’t always be expected to complete every question.

Remember though that accuracy is equally as important, so don’t rush.

The employer will have an idea of the score that they expect you to reach.

This will normally be calculated by the test provider using a norm group and past test scores.

Prepare for Spatial Ability Test

Spatial Ability Practice Questions

Group Rotation

These are questions where a group of five or six two-dimensional shapes or elements are presented and you need to determine which groups are rotations of each other.

Example question:

Which of the Answer Figures is a rotation of the Question Figure?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests
Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: C

You need to be careful that you don’t identify reflections.

The best strategy is to choose the most asymmetrical shape in the group – in this case, the arrow.

Then determine the shapes clockwise, anticlockwise and opposite.

Thinking in these terms is more logical than using directions such as ‘right’, ‘left’, ‘above’ or ‘below’ as they are constant even when the figures are rotated.

In the example above, the white square is clockwise from the arrow. This means that A, B and D cannot be rotations of the Question Figure.

This leaves only C as a possibility which can quickly be checked element by element.

Remember that no logical manipulation of the figures is necessary, you are only interested in identifying which of the Answer Figures is identical to the Question Figure.

These spatial rotation questions are very common and are used in the tests supplied by many of the major test providers.

Because rotation only requires manipulation in two-dimensions, these questions are much easier than the three-dimensional cube questions.

Shape Matching

In this type of question, you will be presented with a number of objects, only two of which are identical.

These are speed questions and you will need to work quickly and attempt to answer as many as possible in the given time.

Example question:

Which shape in Group 2 corresponds to the shape in Group 1?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

In this example, you are asked to look at two groups of simple, flat objects and find pairs that are exactly the same size and shape.

Each group has about 25 small drawings of these two-dimensional objects.

The objects in the first group are labeled with numbers and are in numerical order.

The objects in the second group are labeled with letters and are in random order.

Each drawing in the first group is exactly the same as a drawing in the second group.

The objects in the second group have been moved and some have been rotated.


1. X
2. P
3. M
4. V
5. G
6. A
7. D
8. T
9. C
10. B
11. W
12. E
13. U
14. Y
15. F
16. S
17. H
18. K
19. J
20. L
21. O
22. N
23. Q
24. R
25. G

These questions use a large number of shapes that are presented close together.

Some people find this very distracting and find it easier to work through the shapes in the second group systematically.

In some questions of this type, there may not be a one-to-one match and some of the shapes in the first group may not appear in the second.

The way that the question is worded will make this clear.

If this is the case, then you should be especially careful to look out for reflections in the second group.

These are often put in by the test designers to trap the unsuspecting.

Visual Comparison

You will be presented with a number of objects, only two of which are identical.

Once again, these are speed questions and you will need to work quickly and attempt to answer as many as possible in the given time.

Example question:

Which two pictures are identical?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: C and E are the only two pictures which are identical

The best strategy for this type of question is to begin with the shape on the left and work through the shapes to the right of it systematically looking for an exact match.

If there isn’t one then move on to the second shape and repeat the process.

It can be quite difficult to discipline yourself to adopt this systematic approach to these types of question, as you may think that it is quicker just to look at all of the shapes until the answer jumps out at you.

The problem with this is that if the answer doesn’t jump out fairly quickly then panic sets in and you usually resort to the systematic approach anyway.

When you are confronted with a large number of similar types of question on a single page, the questions other than the one you are trying to answer can be distracting.

You may find that it helps to cover them and concentrate only on the two shapes that you are comparing.

Spatial Ability Practice Test

Combining Shapes

These questions show you a series of two-dimensional shapes.

One of the shapes has been cut up into pieces.

The question presents you with the pieces and you are asked to work out which of the shapes has been cut up.

Example question:

Which of the complete shapes can be made from the components shown?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: B is the only shape that can be made from the components shown.

The best strategy for answering these questions is to look at the complete shapes to see if there are any distinct features that would make it impossible to construct such a shape from the components.

In the example above, this is not very obvious but sometimes there are one or two shapes that can be immediately discounted based on size alone.

One thing to remember is that if the complete shapes don’t have any bits sticking out (they usually don’t) then the components must fit together so that sides of the same length are together.

This reduces the number of combinations considerably.


These questions show you several (usually three) views of a three-dimensional cube with unique symbols or markings on each face.

Let’s look at an example question.

Example question:

Three views of the same cube are shown above. Which symbol is opposite the X?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: D

Some people seem to have a natural talent for imagining objects in three-dimensions and find these questions straightforward.

However, if you’re not one of them and you find thinking in three dimensions difficult, there are other ways to get the answer.

In the question above, for example, you can simply use a process of elimination.

If you can see a symbol on the same illustration as the ‘X’ then it cannot be opposite.

The second and third cubes eliminate A, B and C.

This leaves only D and ‘other’ as possibilities.

D has edges shared with A and B which would be consistent with the third cube illustrated.

Therefore, D is correct.

Although it is not usually specified in the instructions, it is almost always true that in these questions each symbol is used only once.

This means that even in cases where elimination is not possible, it is sometimes quite easy to see the solution without mentally manipulating the cube too much.

In the example above, you can simply compare the first and third illustrations.

The third illustration shows a 90-degree clockwise rotation (looking at the cube from above) of the first illustration.

Therefore D must be opposite the ‘X’.

Cubes in Two and Three-Dimensions

These questions show a flat (two-dimensional) pattern which can be folded to make a cube and a number of three-dimensional cubes (usually four).

The pattern and the cubes have symbols or markings on each face.

You need to look at the pattern and decide which of the cubes, if any, could be made from it.

Example question:

Which of the cubes shown could be made from the pattern?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: A

The key to these questions is to remember that only three faces of the cube can be shown in the illustration, this means that you need only to consider the relationship between the three visible elements on each cube and see if the same relationship exists in the pattern.

The best strategy for this type of question is to call one face of the cube the ‘front’ and then to name the other faces of the cube in relation to it.

For example:

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

This is obviously an arbitrary decision as you could look at a cube from any side.

However, thinking of the problem this way makes it much easier to see the relationship between the faces of the cube.

You can then look at the front of the cube, find that face on the pattern, use the pattern to identify the ‘top’ and eliminate any options that do not match.

Use the pattern to identify the other face that touches the ‘front’ (in this example LHS) and eliminate any options that do not match.

Another type of question poses the problem the other way around.

Here you have a single three-dimensional cube and a number of two-dimensional patterns, only one of which when folded, will make the cube.

Solid Shapes

These questions are similar to the cube questions above but, rather than cubes, they use other solid shapes which may be irregular.

In some respects, these questions are easier than the cube questions as there are more relationships to work with.

In other words, each face of the solid shape has a shape of its own rather than just being square.

Example question:

Which of the solid shapes shown could be made from the pattern?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: D

Shape A can be eliminated because it shows an un-shaded face below a triangular face, both of these faces (below the triangular face) are shaded on the pattern.

Shape B can be eliminated as it has a shaded roof above the shaded side, which does not appear on the pattern.

Shape C can be eliminated because it shows an un-shaded face below a triangular face, both of these faces (below the triangular face) are shaded on the pattern.

Once again, you can reduce these problems to the relationship between the visible elements on the three-dimensional picture.

This makes things easier because even though the solid shape may have more faces than a cube, it is unusual for more than four faces to be shown.

This means that you need to consider the relationship between the four visible faces, paying particular attention to shading or other patterns on them.

Maps and Plans

These questions often appear in tests for emergency services, military and law enforcement jobs where the ability to give or follow directions based on a map or street plan is essential.

You will usually see an arrow showing which way is north. Sometimes, all four directions will be given (North, South, East and West), sometimes just North.

By convention, this is towards the top of the page.

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

If only North is given, you can work out the others if you remember the saying ‘Never Eat Sour Wheat’ as this gives you all of the compass points reading clockwise from North.

You may also need to know the intermediate compass points as shown below:

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

As well as knowing the points of the compass, you may also need to pay attention to traffic regulations if the question shows a city or town plan.

It is very common for these to show one-way streets which you can only drive down in the direction of the arrow.

You can, of course, walk in either direction and the question should make it clear whether you are walking or driving.

Example question:

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Officer Wilkinson is in Depp St and can see the Town Hall to her right. What direction is she facing?

A) North
B) South
C) East
D) West

She turns and walks to the junction with Main St. She turns left and proceeds two blocks before turning right, then takes the next right and walks half a block. Which location is nearest to her current position?

A) M
B) N
C) R
D) P

Officer Garcia starts from location ‘N’ and proceeds as follows: right onto West St – heading East, fourth left – heading North, first right – heading East, first right – heading South, third right – heading West. He proceeds West for one block. Where is location ‘P’ in relation to his current position?

A) North
B) South East
C) North East
D) North West


  1. B
  2. A
  3. A

Block Counting

These questions consist of shapes formed from a group of three-dimensional blocks.

You will be asked to identify how many blocks have been used to make up the shape.

You will need to take into account the blocks that are hidden.

Example question:

How many blocks make up the shape below?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests
Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: D

Try to break up the blocks in your mind. For example, there is a 5-cube pillar, three 3-cube pillars (9 blocks in total), three 2-cube pillars (6 blocks in total) and five single blocks.

Adding together 5 + 9 + 6 + 5 gives 25


These questions will require you to identify the mirror image of a given shape or pattern.

Example question:

Which answer shows a mirror image of the image below?

Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests
Spatial Ability Reasoning Tests

Answer: C

The first step when looking for the correct answer is to check if any of the shapes have changed places.

This will eliminate answer D as the circle and bent arrow have swapped places.

Then look for any elements which are not true mirror images.

Answer A could potentially be a mirror image, except you will notice that the trapezoid is not a correct mirror image.

Spatial Ability Practice Test

How to Pass Spatial Reasoning Questions – Top Tips

Generally speaking, if spatial reasoning questions involve the manipulation of two-dimensional objects then they are probably fairly straightforward, but you will be challenged to answer them all in the time you are given.

If the questions involve the manipulation of three-dimensional objects then many people find them extremely difficult.

This is one skill that can be significantly improved with practice.

Remember, you are not looking for the logical relationship between figures ­­– what you are trying to do is form mental images and visualize movement or change between them.

Here are some top tips for successfully completing spatial reasoning tests:

  • Get hold of lots of sample questions – The only way to really improve your spatial reasoning is to practice all the different types of question until you are confident answering them. When you get questions wrong, make sure you understand where you went wrong and how you can improve next time.

  • Practice working quickly – Spatial reasoning tests are tricky because they usually have strict time constraints. Most people would find the tasks relatively simple with endless time to complete them. Ensure you practice using a stopwatch to ensure that you can complete the questions quickly and accurately.

  • Do not guess – Some spatial tests deduct points for inaccurate work or wrong answers. Although you need to be fast, don’t forego accuracy. You will not always be expected to finish the test so make sure you are answering carefully.

How to Improve Your Spatial Reasoning Ability

Spatial ability involves visualizing and manipulating two and three-dimensional objects in your mind and understanding the relationships between objects as they are rotated or seen in mirror image.

About 5% of the adult population find it near-impossible to imagine two-dimensional shapes being moved through a third dimension.

This is thought to be because there is a genetic factor involved in spatial reasoning ability.

However, in general, spatial reasoning ability can be improved with practice.

Indeed, we use spatial reasoning every day in our normal daily interactions.

We visualize where things are in the house before we find them and organize the shopping in our car boots so that the eggs don’t get crushed.

If you find spatial reasoning tests hard, try to actively perform tasks like map reading or following two-dimensional plans to build three-dimensional things (such as flat-pack furniture).

Use mirrors to look at two and three-dimensional geometric shapes and patterns in reverse and practice drawing them out on paper.

Improve your Spatial Reasoning Ability with JobTestPrep Packages


Spatial reasoning tests can be particularly hard as they require you to use your mind to visualize shapes and patterns and how they might move or be manipulated.

This is a skill that can be significantly improved with practice.

Make sure you focus both on speed and accuracy and take plenty of practice tests before test day.


Spatial Aptitude

WorkplaceTesting Explains Spatial Aptitude

The U.S. Department of Labor developed a series of tests called the General Aptitude Test Battery (G.A.B.T.) to assist individuals in determining their strongest cognitive capabilities. Spatial aptitude is one of several different cognitive abilities identified through this test. This information gained from aptitude testing is used for job placement and career planning.

In recent years, the G.A.B.T. has been replaced with the Ability Profiler. The U.S. government is not the only organization that uses aptitude tests. Private and non-profit organizations often use aptitude testing to assist job seekers identify potential career paths. Employers may also look for specific aptitudes when screening potential employees.

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Aptitude spatial

Spatial ability

Space Engineersvideo game: 3D spatial navigation

Spatial ability or visuo-spatial ability is the capacity to understand, reason, and remember the spatial relations among objects or space.[1]

Visual-spatial abilities are used for everyday use from navigation, understanding or fixing equipment, understanding or estimating distance and measurement, and performing on a job. Spatial abilities are also important for success in fields such as sports, technical aptitude, mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, economic forecasting, meteorology, chemistry and physics.[2][3] Not only do spatial abilities involve understanding the outside world, but they also involve processing outside information and reasoning with it through representation in the mind.

Definition and types[edit]

Spatial ability is the capacity to understand, reason and remember the spatial relations among objects or space.[1] There are four common types of spatial abilities which include spatial or visuo-spatial perception, spatial visualization, mental folding and mental rotation.[4] Each of these abilities have unique properties and importance to many types of tasks whether in certain jobs or everyday life. For example, spatial perception is defined as the ability to perceive spatial relationships in respect to the orientation of one's body despite distracting information.[5]Mental rotation on the other hand is the mental ability to manipulate and rotate 2D or 3D objects in space quickly and accurately.[4] Lastly, spatial visualization is characterized as complicated multi-step manipulations of spatially presented information.[5] These three abilities are mediated and supported by a fourth spatial cognitive factor known as spatial working memory. Spatial working memory is the ability to temporarily store a certain amount of visual-spatial memories under attentional control in order to complete a task.[6] This cognitive ability mediates individual differences in the capacity for higher level spatial abilities such as mental rotation.

Spatial perception[edit]

Action shooting game: Use of spatial perceptual skills

Spatial perception is defined as the ability to perceive spatial relationships in respect to the orientation of one's body despite distracting information.[4] It consists of being able to perceive and visually understand outside spatial information such as features, properties, measurement, shapes, position and motion.[7] For example, when one is navigating through a dense forest they are using spatial perception and awareness. Another example is when trying to understand the relations and mechanics inside of a car, they are relying on their spatial perception to understand its visual framework. Tests that measure spatial perception include the rod and frame test, where subjects must place a rod vertically while viewing a frame orientation of 22 degrees in angle, or the water-level task, where subjects have to draw or identify a horizontal line in a tilted bottle.[5]

Spatial perception is also very relevant in sports. For example, a study found that cricket players who were faster at picking up information from briefly presented visual displays were significantly better batsmen in an actual game.[8] A 2015 study published in the Journal of Vision found that soccer players had higher perceptual ability for body kinematics such as processing multitasking crowd scenes which involve pedestrians crossing a street or complex dynamic visual scenes.[9] Another study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics on fencing athletes found that achievement level was highly correlated with spatial perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, visual-spatial relationships, visual sequential memory, narrow attentional focus and visual information processing.[10] A review published in the journal Neuropsychologia found that spatial perception involves attributing meaning to an object or space, so that their sensory processing is actually part of semantic processing of the incoming visual information.[11] The review also found that spatial perception involves the human visual system in the brain and the parietal lobule which is responsible for visuomotor processing and visually goal-directed action.[11] Studies have also found that individuals who played first person shooting games had better spatial perceptual skills like faster and more accurate performance in a peripheral and identification task while simultaneously performing a central search.[12] Researchers suggested that, in addition to enhancing the ability to divide attention, playing action games significantly enhances perceptual skills like top-down guidance of attention to possible target locations.[12]

Mental rotation[edit]

Rubik's cube: a popular puzzle that involves 3D mental rotation

Mental rotation is the ability to mentally represent and rotate 2D and 3D objects in space quickly and accurately, while the object's features remain unchanged. Mental representations of physical objects can help utilize problem solving and understanding. For example, Hegarty (2004) showed that people manipulate mental representations for reasoning about mechanical problems, such as how gears or pulleys work.[13] Similarly, Schwartz and Black (1999) found that doing such mental simulations such as pouring water improves people's skill to find the solution to questions about the amount of tilt required for containers of different heights and widths.[13] In the field of sports psychology, coaches for a variety of sports (e.g. basketball, gymnastics, soccer or golf) have promoted players to use mental imagery and manipulation as one technique for performance in their game. (Jones & Stuth, 1997)[13] Recent research (e.g., Cherney, 2008) has also demonstrated evidence that playing video games with consistent practice can improve mental rotation skills, for example improvements in women's scores after practice with a game that involved a race within a 3-D environment.[13] Same effects have been seen playing action video games such as Unreal Tournament as well as the popular mainstream game Tetris.[14]Jigsaw puzzles and Rubik's cube are also activities that involve higher level of mental rotation and can be practiced to improve spatial abilities over time.[15][16][17]

Mental rotation is also unique and distinct from the other spatial abilities because it also involves areas associated with motor simulation in the brain.[18]

Spatial visualization[edit]

Main article: Spatial visualization ability

Spatial visualization is characterized as complicated multi-step manipulations of spatially presented information.[5] It involves visual imagery which is the ability to mentally represent visual appearances of an object, and spatial imagery which consists of mentally representing spatial relations between the parts or locations of the objects or movements.[19]

Spatial visualization is especially important in the domains of science and technology. For example, an astronomer must mentally visualize the structures of a solar system and the motions of the objects within it.[2] An engineer mentally visualizes the interactions of the parts of a machine or building that they are assigned to design or work with.[2] Chemists must be able to understand formulas which can be viewed as abstract models of molecules with most of the spatial information deleted; spatial skills are important in restoring that information when more detailed mental models of the molecules are needed in the formulas.[2]

Spatial visualization also involves imagining and working with visual details of measurement, shapes, motion, features and properties through mental imagery and using this spatial relations to derive at an understanding to a problem. Whereas spatial perception involves understanding externally via the senses, spatial visualization is the understanding internally through mental imagery in one's mind.

Another critical spatial visualization ability is mental animation.[20] Mental animation is mentally visualizing the motion and movement of components within any form of system or in general.[20] It is an ability highly crucial in mechanical reasoning and understanding, for example mental animation in mechanical tasks can involve deconstructing a pulley system mentally into smaller units and animating them in the corresponding sequence or laws in the mechanical system.[21] In short, mental animation is mental imagining how mechanical objects work by analyzing the motion of their smaller parts.

Mental folding is a complex spatial visualization that involves the folding of 2D pattern or material into 3D objects and representations.[22] Compared to other studies, mental folding has had relatively little research and study. In comparison to mental rotation, mental folding is a non-rigid spatial transformation ability which means features of the manipulated object end up changing unlike mental rotation. In rigid manipulations, the object itself is not changed but rather its spatial position or orientation is, whereas in non-rigid transformations like mental folding the object and shapes are changed.[23] Mental folding in tasks usually require a series of mental rotations to sequentially fold the object into a new one. Classic mental folding tests are the Paper folding task which is similar to Origami. Origami also requires mental folding by assessing folding a 2D paper enough times to create a 3D figure.[22]

Visual penetrative ability is least common spatial visualization task which involves ability to imagine what is inside an object based on the features outside.[24]

Spatial working memory[edit]

Spatial working memory is the ability to temporarily store visual-spatial memories under attentional control, in order to complete a task.[6] This cognitive ability mediates individual differences in the capacity for higher level spatial abilities, such as mental rotation. Spatial working memory involves storing large amounts of short-term spatial memories in relation to visuo-spatial sketchpad. It is used in the temporary storage and manipulation of visual-spatial information such as memorizing shapes, colours, location or motion of objects in space. It is also involved in tasks which consist of planning of spatial movements, like planning one's route through a complex building. The visuospatial sketchpad can be split into separate visual, spatial and possibly kin-aesthetic (movement) components. Its neurobiological function also correlates within the right hemisphere of the brain.[25]

Vocational applications[edit]

Researchers have found that spatial ability plays an important role in advanced educational credentials in the science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).[26][27] From studies, it has been indicated that the probability of getting an advanced degree in STEM increases in positive relation to the level of one's spatial ability. For example, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that 45% of those with STEM PhDs were within top percentage of high spatial ability in a group of 400,000 participants who were analyzed for 11 years since they were in the 12th grade.[26] Only less than 10% of those with STEM PhDs were below the top quarter in spatial ability during adolescence.[26] The researchers then concluded how important spatial ability is for STEM and as a factor in achieving advanced educational success in that field.[26]

Spatial visualization is especially important in science and technology. For example, an astronomer must visually imagine the structures of a solar system, and the path of the bodies within it.[2] An engineer must visually imagine the motions of the parts of a machine or building that they are assigned to work with.[2] Chemists must be able to understand formulas which are essentially abstract models supposed to represent spatial dynamics of molecules, and thus spatial skills are important in visualizing the molecule models that are needed in the formulas.[2] Spatial manipulation ability is also important in the field of structural geology, when visually imagining how rocks change through time, such as migration of a magma body through crust or progressive folding of a strati-graphic succession. Another spatial visualization skill known as visual penetrative ability is important in geology as it requires geologists to visualize what is inside of a solid object based on past knowledge.[24]

Current literature also indicates that mathematics involves visuo-spatial processing. Studies have found that gifted students in math, for instance, perform better in spatial visualization than non-gifted students.[19] A 2008 review published in the journal of Neuroscience Biobehavioural Reviews found evidence that visuo-spatial processing is intuitively involved in many aspects of processing numbers and calculating in math. For example, meaning of a digit in a multi-digit number is coded following spatial information given its relation to its position within the number.[28] Another study found that numerical estimation might rely on integrating different visual-spatial cues (diameter, size, location, measurement) to infer an answer.[29] A study published in 2014 also found evidence that mathematical calculation relies on the integration of various spatial processes.[30] Another 2015 study published in the journal of Frontiers in Psychology also found that numerical processing and arithmetic performance may rely on visual perceptual ability.[31]

A 2007 study published in the journal of Cognitive Science also found that spatial visualization ability is crucial for solving kinematic problems in physics.[32] Nonetheless, current literature indicates that spatial abilities specifically mental rotation, is crucial for achieving success in various fields of chemistry, engineering and physics.[3][33]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ ab"Spatial ability"(PDF). Johns Hopkins University.
  2. ^ abcdefgJohns Hopkins University. "What is spatial ability?"(PDF). Johns Hopkins University.
  3. ^ ab(us), National Academy of Sciences; (us), National Academy of Engineering; Engineering, and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and (2006-01-01). "Women in Science and Mathematics". National Academies Press (US).
  4. ^ abcDonnon, Tyrone; DesCôteaux, Jean-Gaston; Violato, Claudio (2005-10-01). "Impact of cognitive imaging and sex differences on the development of laparoscopic suturing skills". Canadian Journal of Surgery. 48 (5): 387–393. ISSN 0008-428X. PMC 3211902. PMID 16248138.
  5. ^ abcdLinn, Marcia C.; Petersen, Anne C. (1985). "Emergence and Characterization of Sex Differences in Spatial Ability: A Meta-Analysis". Child Development. 56 (6): 1479–1498. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1985.tb00213.x. PMID 4075870.
  6. ^ abShelton, Jill T.; Elliott, Emily M.; Hill, B. D.; Calamia, Matthew R.; Gouvier, Wm. Drew (2009-05-01). "A Comparison of Laboratory and Clinical Working Memory Tests and Their Prediction of Fluid Intelligence". Intelligence. 37 (3): 283. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2008.11.005. ISSN 0160-2896. PMC 2818304. PMID 20161647.
  7. ^Simmons, Alison (2003). "Spatial Perception from a Cartesian Point of View"(PDF). Philosophical Topics. 31: 395–423. doi:10.5840/philtopics2003311/22.
  8. ^Deary, I. J.; Mitchell, H. (1989-01-01). "Inspection time and high-speed ball games". Perception. 18 (6): 789–792. doi:10.1068/p180789. ISSN 0301-0066. PMID 2628929. S2CID 27010211.
  9. ^Romeas, Thomas; Faubert, Jocelyn (2015-09-01). "Assessment of sport specific and non-specific biological motion perception in soccer athletes shows a fundamental perceptual ability advantage over non-athletes for recognizing body kinematics". Journal of Vision. 15 (12): 504. doi:10.1167/15.12.504. ISSN 1534-7362.
  10. ^Hijazi, Mona Mohamed Kamal (2013-12-31). "Attention, Visual Perception and their Relationship to Sport Performance in Fencing". Journal of Human Kinetics. 39: 195–201. doi:10.2478/hukin-2013-0082. ISSN 1640-5544. PMC 3916930. PMID 24511355.
  11. ^ abJeannerod, M.; Jacob, P. (2005-01-01). "Visual cognition: a new look at the two-visual systems model"(PDF). Neuropsychologia. 43 (2): 301–312. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2004.11.016. ISSN 0028-3932. PMID 15707914. S2CID 13225551.
  12. ^ abWu, Sijing; Spence, Ian (2013-05-01). "Playing shooter and driving videogames improves top-down guidance in visual search". Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. 75 (4): 673–686. doi:10.3758/s13414-013-0440-2. ISSN 1943-393X. PMID 23460295. S2CID 10088645.
  13. ^ abcd"Online Psychology Laboratory - About Mental Rotation". Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  14. ^Latham, Andrew J.; Patston, Lucy L. M.; Tippett, Lynette J. (2013-09-13). "The virtual brain: 30 years of video-game play and cognitive abilities". Frontiers in Psychology. 4: 629. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00629. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 3772618. PMID 24062712.
  15. ^Levine, S.C.; Ratliff, K.R.; Huttenlocher, J.; Cannon, J. (2012-03-01). "Early Puzzle Play: A predictor of preschoolers' spatial transformation skill". Developmental Psychology. 48 (2): 530–542. doi:10.1037/a0025913. ISSN 0012-1649. PMC 3289766. PMID 22040312.
  16. ^Baron-Cohen, Simon; Ashwin, Emma; Ashwin, Chris; Tavassoli, Teresa; Chakrabarti, Bhismadev (2009-05-27). "Talent in autism: hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 364 (1522): 1377–1383. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0337. ISSN 0962-8436. PMC 2677592. PMID 19528020.
  17. ^Hopkins, J. Roy (2014-05-10). Adolescence: The Transitional Years. Academic Press. ISBN .
  18. ^Zacks, Jeffrey M. (2008-01-01). "Neuroimaging studies of mental rotation: a meta-analysis and review". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 20 (1): 1–19. doi:10.1162/jocn.2008.20013. ISSN 0898-929X. PMID 17919082. S2CID 14543380.
  19. ^ abVan Garderen, Delinda (2006). "Spatial Visualization, Visual Imagery, and Mathematical Problem Solving of Students With Varying Abilities"(PDF). Journal of Learning Disabilities. 39 (6).
  20. ^ abSims, V. K.; Hegarty, M. (1997-05-01). "Mental animation in the visuospatial sketchpad: evidence from dual-task studies". Memory & Cognition. 25 (3): 321–332. doi:10.3758/bf03211288. ISSN 0090-502X. PMID 9184484.
  21. ^Hegarty, M. (1992-09-01). "Mental animation: inferring motion from static displays of mechanical systems". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 18 (5): 1084–1102. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/0278-7393.18.5.1084. ISSN 0278-7393. PMID 1402712.
  22. ^ abGlass, Leila; Krueger, Frank; Solomon, Jeffrey; Raymont, Vanessa; Grafman, Jordan (2013-07-01). "Mental Paper Folding Performance Following Penetrating Traumatic Brain Injury in Combat Veterans: A Lesion Mapping Study". Cerebral Cortex. 23 (7): 1663–1672. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhs153. ISSN 1047-3211. PMC 3673178. PMID 22669970.
  23. ^Harris, Justin; Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy; Newcombe, Nora S. (2013-05-01). "Understanding spatial transformations: similarities and differences between mental rotation and mental folding". Cognitive Processing. 14 (2): 105–115. doi:10.1007/s10339-013-0544-6. ISSN 1612-4790. PMID 23397105. S2CID 6072708.
  24. ^ abTitus, Sarah (2009). "Characterizing and Improving Spatial Visualization Skills". Journal of Geoscience Education. 57 (4): 242–254. Bibcode:2009JGeEd..57..242T. doi:10.5408/1.3559671. S2CID 8733070.
  25. ^Baddeley, A.D. (2000). "The episodic buffer: A new component of working memory?". Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 4 (11): 417–423. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01538-2. PMID 11058819. S2CID 14333234.
  26. ^ abcdWai, Jonathan (2009). "Spatial Ability for STEM Domains: Aligning Over 50 Years of cumulative psychological Knowledge solidifies Its importance"(PDF). Journal of Educational Psychology. 101 (4): 817–835. doi:10.1037/a0016127.
  27. ^Tosto, Maria Grazia; Hanscombe, Ken B.; Haworth, Claire M.A.; Davis, Oliver S.P.; Petrill, Stephen A.; Dale, Philip S.; Malykh, Sergey; Plomin, Robert; Kovas, Yulia (2014-05-01). "Why do spatial abilities predict mathematical performance?". Developmental Science. 17 (3): 462–470. doi:10.1111/desc.12138. ISSN 1363-755X. PMC 3997754. PMID 24410830.
  28. ^de Hevia, Maria Dolores; Vallar, Giuseppe; Girelli, Luisa (2008-10-01). "Visualizing numbers in the mind's eye: the role of visuo-spatial processes in numerical abilities". Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 32 (8): 1361–1372. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.05.015. ISSN 0149-7634. PMID 18584868. S2CID 207088066.
  29. ^Gebuis, Titia; Reynvoet, Bert (2012-01-01). "The role of visual information in numerosity estimation". PLOS ONE. 7 (5): e37426. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...737426G. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037426. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3355123. PMID 22616007.
  30. ^Marghetis, Tyler; Núñez, Rafael; Bergen, Benjamin K. (2014-01-01). "Doing arithmetic by hand: hand movements during exact arithmetic reveal systematic, dynamic spatial processing". Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 67 (8): 1579–1596. doi:10.1080/17470218.2014.897359. ISSN 1747-0226. PMID 25051274.
  31. ^Zhou, Xinlin; Wei, Wei; Zhang, Yiyun; Cui, Jiaxin; Chen, Chuansheng (2015-01-01). "Visual perception can account for the close relation between numerosity processing and computational fluency". Frontiers in Psychology. 6: 1364. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01364. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 4563146. PMID 26441740.
  32. ^Kozhevnikov, Maria; Motes, Michael A.; Hegarty, Mary (2007). "Spatial Visualization in Physics Problem Solving". Cognitive Science. 31 (4): 549–579. doi:10.1080/15326900701399897. ISSN 1551-6709. PMID 21635308.
  33. ^Ha, Oai; Fang, Ning (2016). "Spatial Ability in Learning Engineering Mechanics: Critical Review". Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. 142 (2): 04015014. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)EI.1943-5541.0000266. Retrieved 2016-01-15.

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