Four Ways of Reasoning About Space and Their Relation to Visual Search

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Smith, Glen Andrew




A framework of spatial thought and language proposed by Chatterjee (2008) was extended to organize measures of spatial tasks (Uttal, Meadow, Tipton, Hand, Alden, Warren, & Newcombe, 2013). Uttal et al. posited that people reason about space based on recognizing and manipulating objects; dimensions of object features (intrinsic vs. extrinsic) and object movement (static vs. dynamic). Uttal et al. proposed four types spatial of spatial processes: Spatial visualization (intrinsic-static); spatial perception (extrinsic-static); mental rotation (intrinsic-dynamic); and spatial orientation (extrinsic-dynamic). Each type of spatial process involves a particular focus of spatial reasoning on the object proper (spatial visualization), its locative relations (spatial perception), manner of motion (mental rotation), or path of motion (spatial orientation). Undergraduates (N = 304) completed 14 spatial tasks identified by Uttal et al. (2013) as measures of the four spatial types. Participants also completed a visual search task hypothesized to involve spatial processes. The four-factor model provided a good fit to the spatial ability measures. Although men performed better than women on most of the spatial measures, the model of spatial reasoning implied by the typology fit the data by gender. A two-factor model of easy and difficult visual search fit the observed data. However, structural models relating all four spatial types to visual search did not converge, presumably due to multiple unmeasured relations between visual search and spatial measures. Multiple regression showed that mental rotation predicted easy visual search. Spatial visualization, spatial orientation, and gender predicted difficult visual search. These findings support the validity of the four factor model, specifically, the relations between easy and difficult visual search and three of the spatial reasoning factors. Mental rotation as an ability to recognize the manner of motion of objects predicted performance on easy visual search. Spatial visualization, operationalized as the recognition of objects by their static, intrinsic features, was a fundamental factor in resolving difficult visual search. Spatial orientation was an important predictor to distinguish moving targets from distractors on the basis of their unique features. The current results extend our understanding of individual differences in spatial abilities and provide support for the Uttal et al. framework.


Psychology - Cognitive
Psychology - Industrial




Carleton University

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