Take a moment and imagine you walking for the first time in the streets of Paris, read a map, play chess, or decorate a new home. By doing this, you have appealed to your spatial reasoning abilities.
Often ignored, these spatial skills are essential to understand and interpret the world around us, as well as to guarantee professional success in various fields.
What is spatial reasoning?
Spatial reasoning or spatial intelligence is the ability to imagine, visualize and differentiate objects in two or three dimensions. It gives us the ability to understand, manipulate and modify complex data and translate concepts into concrete ideas.
Nearly a century of research has confirmed a good correlation between spatial reasoning and success in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
For example, in a study of 400,000 high school students, Wai Lubinski and Benbow (2009) uncovered that the students’ spatial abilities predicted their later success in STEM fields.
Spatial reasoning - an asset for creativity and innovation?
The discoveries of the DNA structure, the theory of relativity or the invention of the engine have all been described as creations born of spatial visualization.
People with good spatial skills are more skilled at recognizing models, paying attention to spatial details, and imagining and expressing proposals from different and inventive perspectives.
Thus, spatial reasoning skills are not only a gauge of success in STEM fields but are also valuable in many artistic fields. Creative professions including architecture, fashion, cooking, communications, web design and multimedia, all benefit from the hiring of individuals with good spatial skills.
A new spatial reasoning assessment
People with excellent spatial abilities are not "detected" by current measures, which tend to focus on the assessment of verbal or numerical skills. As a result, organisations are missing out on the unique perspectives that come with hiring for these skills.
Central Test has launched a new assessment - REASONING - SPATIAL - that measures one aspect of a person's spatial reasoning skills, the ability of mental rotation.
Of all the visual-spatial skills, mental rotation sparked the most interest among researchers. Mental rotation combines the ability to use our imaginations to visualize and reposition complex objects, with the ability to identify patterns and apply them to new situations.
Can we develop spatial reasoning?
The American psychologist Howard Gardner was the first to highlight the plurality of intelligences.
What is called "intelligence" is not a single faculty, but a set of skills, innate or acquired, that can be applied to all spheres of life? And spatial intelligence is one of them.
Recent studies have shown that spatial reasoning skills can be improved through a variety of activities and at all ages.
Key development activities may include puzzles, video games, building block games, puzzles, orientation races, artistic design and creative tasks, and geometry lessons.
The evolution of technological innovation guarantees an increasing demand for spatial intelligence in more and more domains. Touch screens, GPS, Google Earth, 3D printers and many others already allow us to manipulate objects and concepts like never before.
A better understanding of spatial intelligence facilitates creativity and innovation and will have practical implications for education, businesses and talent development.