If you have a highly developed visual perception of your environment, can manipulate three-dimensional images and shapes in your mind, solve puzzles such as a Rubik’s cube and navigate well, the chances are that you will have good spatial intelligence. It’s one of the three key cognitive abilities most important for developing expertise in work settings. Art, architecture, engineering, sports such as golf and scientific disciplines such as physics are some callings at which those with a high degree of spatial intelligence will excel.
Spatial ability is determined not by your sex but by your environment, according to scientists. Although studies have shown that men are better at video games such as Call of Duty, this is because more men play the game than women. Stanford University School of Medicine research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2008 showed that the reward centres of the brain were stimulated more in men than women during video-game play. (Men are three times more likely to get addicted to video games than females.) And, good news for women: there is no evidence to support men having better map reading skills than women.
We use our spatial intelligence all the time – for example in everyday activities such as driving and organising a room. Spatial skills are very trainable, and here are just a few ways to develop this important ability:
- Play or learn to play chess - indeed any game that requires you to manipulate a visual landscape. Chess is a game involving strategy and skill to both plan your moves and anticipate the next move your opponent will make. You will therefore be visualising the board several moves in advance even though the pieces haven’t been moved.
- Get stuck into some good mazes or challenging jigsaw puzzles – anything that requires you to perceive or process visual stimuli. To inspire you, check out Archimedes’ Loculus, which is a puzzle consisting of 14 polygonal shapes that fit together in 536 distinct solutions to make a square or can be rearranged to make pictures of people, animals and objects.
- Take up orienteering. There’s nothing like a run through the woods with a compass and a map to develop your navigational skills. Plus you’ll get a good workout in the process.
- Unleash the child within and play with construction toys like bricks, Lego or K’Nex. You could set yourself a challenge to build something specific, for example a tank made from K’Nex.
Role Playing Games
- Play video games. Particularly good are games that require you to navigate a path, such as role-playing games.
- Take up photography, painting, sculpture, flower arranging or graphic design. These activities rely on spatial intelligence to visualise how what is created will look or function.
- Have a look at the Spinning Dancer. It’s a fascinating optical illusion – what you’ll see is the silhouette of a rotating female dancer. Your brain quickly decides whether she is rotating clockwise or anti-clockwise, and you can train yourself to change your perception of the direction. If you can’t manage this and it’s driving you crazy, you’ll find the answer here.
It’s impossible to develop your spatial ability overnight; it will take consistent effort. The point is that it is possible to improve spatial intelligence, and the exercises above are a just a few ways you can get started. Those with strong spatial skills have the ability to effectively and efficiently navigate their environments, and they are also better at adopting different perspectives - they can be the fly on the wall or the spider on the ceiling. Moreover, people who are able to spot patterns to help solve a problem or visualise solutions have a definite edge over those who need to be presented with everything in front of them before they can even begin to find a solution.