Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Two Types of Visual Thinkers

Here's a very interesting paper from Kosslyn and his group. It provides answers to those curious complaints of visual thinkers who mutter, "If I'm such a visual thinker why is it I...."

As it turns out, there are two very different types of people who identify themselves as visual thinkers - ones that are very pictoral, and others who are really spatial. On some visual tasks they appear to be complete opposites.

The different groups appear to be:

Visual-Pictures: remember scenes like a photograph, remember color and detail, temporal lobe, more women, artists

Visual-Spatial (or maybe just Spatial is easier): remember moving objects (dynamic, spatial relationships), schematic diagrams, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, more men

Interestingly, these two visual 'types' appear to have some opposite performances with visual tasks (with verbalizers in the middle), suggesting a possible yin-yang effect between 'What' and 'Where'. Try this out yourself. Take a look at the graph below. Visualize and describe the situation shown by the graph.

What does yours look like? Is it more like the artist's or the scientist's?

These findings might provide useful information for students or adults with dyslexia. For those with problems with spatial imagery, colorful picture strategies may be with way to go. Memory for color and color sequence can compensate for spatial memory difficulties in sequence and object relationships. We've found this can help a lot with spelling and high visual-memory subjects like science and its diagrams and multi-stepped mathematics.

Two Types of Visual Thinkers - Kosslyn group


  1. Thanks for the link on visual thinkers. I'm a woman who has mixed capacities, but they tend toward the more abstract objects-in-space. Linda Silverman's visual/spatial theory seriously oversimplifies the concept, and I've wondered why no one has ever done research on the differences. In fact, I feel that there are more than just two types of visual thinkers.

    I'm writing a book on intellectual creativity and your blog has been a source of much useful information.

  2. Thanks, Catana. We'd love to hear more about what your experience is, too. Thinking and creativity are two topics where it really helps to hear from different points of view.

    Regarding what you've said about more than two types, that's certainly true - especially if you're thinking about what one does with the visual images or perceptions.

    Now that The Mislabeled Child is finished, we've started work on a second book looking at creative and inventive higher order thought...and what it implies for education. It's a fascinating topic.

  3. The research and findings on visual learning are just the tip of the iceberg.
    As an art teacher - I see the "arts" as playing a significant role in the learning process and yet have seen very little in the way of research in this area. We need more support in the arts for this reason. We have to advocate the arts as a way of learning for many of our students.