Monday, September 12, 2011

Verbal vs. Visual Problem Solving in the Brain

In this research of fMRI problem solving from researchers in Indiana, adoption of a verbal / algebraic vs. visual strategy had similar patterns of activation in brain networks, but the visual strategy was less demanding on working memory, and visual strategies were preferred more often from students who had working memory limitations.

Which strategy would you choose?

The month after April is the month before my favorite month. What is my favorite month?

It's also interesting that individuals with more limited working memory tended to have a reduced reading span (mild dyslexia?).

One question that comes to mind is whether most algebra or logic teachers would teach verbally or algebraically rather than visually. And if so, is that why students with more limited working memories or those with a bias toward spatial problem solving may be being left behind?

Studies such as these are very basic, but surprisingly there are still some educational pedagogues who suggest that teachers should not tailor instruction to different types of learners.


  1. Interesting. What about children with limited visual working memory spans due to a nonverbal learning disability--would it actually be easier for them to use an "algebraic" strategy, or do you think the visual strategy would be easier for them too?

  2. Great question, Emily. Many individuals with NVLD who aren't able to visualize or have spatial difficulties will prefer a substitution or algebraic / verbal strategy for these types of problems.