Spatial skills may be improved through training, new review finds

Spatial skills--those involved with reading maps and assembling furniture--can be improved if you work at it, that's according to a new look at the studies on this topic by researchers at Northwestern University and Temple.

The research published this month in , the journal of the , is the first comprehensive analysis of credible studies on such interventions.

Improving spatial skills is important because children who do well at such as putting together puzzles are likely to achieve highly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

David Uttal and fellow researchers at Northwestern University with Nora Newcombe, professor of psychology at Temple and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation's Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center, reviewed 217 research studies on to improve spatial thinking.

"There are limitations involved with looking at individual studies one by one. What we found when we brought together this large body of literature on effects and analyzed it was a very powerful message, said Newcombe. "People of all ages can improve at all types of spatial skills through training, period."

Although recent research confirms that spatial abilities uniquely predict STEM achievement, there has been some debate about whether spatial skills can be improved — and whether such improvement lasts or transfers to new tasks. The new meta-analysis answers all those questions in the affirmative.

The researchers found that spatial skills are indeed malleable and that spatial training transfers to other fields.

"Our findings have significant real world implications by showing that training can have an impact on a technological workforce. With the right training more high school students will be able to consider engineering and other scientific fields as a career option," said Newcombe.

One example of the type of training that can increase is having physics students use three-dimensional representations. Video game playing also increases spatial skills. "Perhaps the most important finding from this meta-analysis is that several different forms of training can be highly successful," the authors say.

"Our hope is that our findings on how to train will ultimately lead to highly effective ways to improve STEM performance," said Uttal, the lead author on the study.

The study looked at gender and age differences in relation to spatial thinking and found that in males and females, adults and children, even a small amount of training can improve spatial reasoning and have long-lasting impact.

Related Stories

Playing video games reduces sex differences in spatial skills

Sep 28, 2007

University of Toronto researchers have discovered that differences between men and women on some tasks that require spatial skills are largely eliminated after both groups play a video game for only a few hours. The research, ...

Recommended for you

What sign language teaches us about the brain

22 hours ago

The world's leading humanoid robot, ASIMO, has recently learnt sign language. The news of this breakthrough came just as I completed Level 1 of British Sign Language (I dare say it took me longer to master signing ...

Why do men prefer nice women?

22 hours ago

People's emotional reactions and desires in initial romantic encounters determine the fate of a potential relationship. Responsiveness may be one of those initial "sparks" necessary to fuel sexual desire and land a second ...

Study reveals how to be socially successful

22 hours ago

Romantic, personal and professional relationships are fraught with danger, but a University of Queensland researcher has found the secret to interacting successfully with others in such settings.

User comments