fMRI of Learning Styles: Confirmation of Visual and Verbal Learners

Using a simple True/False Learning Styles questionnaire(like this, see below), researchers found that people could reliably predict whether they are predominantly visual or verbal learners. When verbal learners remember pictures, they translate pictures into words (their preferred style of storing information); whereas visual learners will do the reverse - translating words in pictoral representations. Verbal learners activated their left supramarginal gyrus, whereas visual learners activated their right fusiform cortex.

Great to see these individual differences in learning confirmed with functional MRI imaging. Even among some of our esteemed colleagues we've heard such opposite remarks as, "Who can think without words?" and "I can't make any pictures in my mind..." For different subjects, this visual-verbal divide can have dramatic consequences on student achievement (or lack thereof). Verbal teachers may have very little understanding for students who can't explain their work, whereas visual teachers may be baffled why their verbal students can't understand what's right in front of them to see. Interestingly, the translation of visual information into verbal, or verbal into visual is rarely taught - most successful adults have stumbled into effective strategies for learning difficult visual or verbal material, but maybe studies such as this will change (our Visual Spelling Homonyms book is at effort at this).

Visualizer - Verbalizer tendencies do seem to run in families, so parents and relatives may be more natural tutors than teachers who may have a very different cognitive thinking style. In some cases, it is one parent who is more like the child - and that's the one that needs to help the most and provide strategies for learning and retaining difficult material.

The Visualizer-Verbalizer Cognitive Style (REVISED)

T F 1. I enjoy doing work that requires the use of words.
T F 2. My daydreams are not so vivid that I feel as if experience the scene.
T F 3. I enjoy learning new words.
T F 4. I can easily think of synonyms for words.
T F 5. My powers of imagination are not higher than average.
T F 6. I seldom dream.
T F 7. I am not a slow reader.
T F 8. I cannot generate a mental picture of a friend's face when I close my eyes.
T F 9. I don't believe that anyone can think in terms of mental pictures.
T F 10. I prefer to read instructions about how to do something rather than have someone show me.
T F 11. My dreams are not extremely vivid.
T F 12. I have better than average fluency in using words.
T F 13. My daydreams are rather indistinct and hazy.
T F 14. I have to spend very little time attempting to increase my vocabulary.
T F 15. My thinking does not often consist of mental pictures or images.

Let each True = 1 and False = 0.


The individual's score is computed simply by adding up their scores
on all fifteen items and dividing by fifteen. Verbalizers will
be equal to or approaching 1, whereas visualizers will be equal to or approaching 0.

fMRI of Visual and Verbal Learners pdf
Visual learners convert words to pictures and vice versa
Eide Neurolearning Blog: The Tyranny of Our Thinking Styles


  1. I ended up with 8/15 on that questionnaire. I've always found the verbalizer/visualizer dichotomy confusing, as neither "learning style" seems to match how I think I think.

    I can't make images in my head, and I can't usually remember what people look like (either by visual or verbal recall).

    I find maps easier to use than verbal directions, but I'm a fast reader with a large vocabulary.

    When I'm working on a difficult problem (debugging a computer program, working out some math, ...) I'm not aware of either a verbal or a visual process. Writing is a verbal process for me, and goes much more slowly than thinking.

  2. Glad you posted this.

    A few years ago we did a teacher training at Seattle Jewish Day schools. Gave the teachers a similar questionnaire. Interesting results. The early childhood teachers were almost exclusively visual (not surprising - language still developing), but the middle school teachers were more strongly verbal - and that was where we found the only teachers who said they had no idea what people meant when they saw pictures...
    Middle schools as we understand emphasize verbal argumentation, debate, etc. So not surprising either.

    At the high school level, teachers were mixed - able to use both systems fairly well.

    We thought about students we seen who presented with unexplained underachievement when switching into middle school (strong visual having to become increasingly verbal) or strong verbal kids being exasperated by the pace of learning (preferred to read) in elementary school. The problem was visual-verbal mismatch, not something wrong with the student....

  3. I also got 8/15. That came up to .53, which means I must be whole brained?

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  5. An obvious problem with the traditional Visualizer-Verbalizer inventory is a failure to distinguish between people who visualize as a picture / icon vs. those who visualize as movements, spatial / kinesthetic relationships, or schematic diagrams that can be manipulated spatially (; also

  6. OK, if you're still here Kevin and Christine, take it again. I think the copied inventory was wrong - Visualizers are more likely to have vivid dreams, image-oriented, have someone show them, manipulate and transform images, like jigsaw puzzles, etc. Verbalizers are word-oriented, think about ideas by reading, seldom dream, understand semantic complexity.

    For more on this, you can check out Handbook of Individual Differences, Learning, and Instruction:,M1

  7. I scored a 5/15, but what's interesting is that I my work is highly verbal oriented. I have to convert everything visually while I think conceptually.

  8. I am not real impressed with the quality (scatter) of the data as graphed.

    I would also argue that the list presents a pretty dismal picture of the visualizer.

    They don't like learning new words? Many people like things that are a challenge. A task doesn't need to be easy to be enjoyed.

    They don't like to do work that requires using words? Not even " Would you like fries with that?" I don't think anyone likes being a telemarketer.

    Questions like # 10 would seem to be more valid as indications.

    Why would anyone think that no one could think in pictures even if they are a verbal type? Everyone thinks in pictures sometimes, at least almost everyone can draw a map or has seen an oil painting that someone drew from a picture in their mind.

    Also of interest would be some indication of the occurrence of the different styles of learning.

  9. Anonymous6:18 AM

    I came out with 6/15 which puts me smack in the middle. I agree with the above poster that this quiz wrongfully depicts the visual learner as a slow reader with a small vocabulary and the verbal learner as somebody who can't even call up a mental image of their friends. Perhaps that's why people are coming up in the middle. I read very quickly and love learning new words but I solve word problems by translating them into pictures. I mean those problems that are worded "John is taller than Mary, Mary is shorter than Sue...". Those type of problems I need to "draw" in my head. I do better with maps than verbal directions and can easily remember dreams.

  10. These visualizer/verbalizer distinctions always confuse me--yes, I think in words, yes I'm fluent with words, but yes, I translate between pictures and words. I remember things visually and "decode" a usually low-detail visual impression into the details. I remember words visually. It's much easier for me to spell an unfamiliar word correctly than to pronounce it correctly. If I don't see a word written, then I either don't remember it or I have to come up with a guess at the spelling. I often prefer getting information from text than from a demonstration because I can "decode" the text into my own visual image of all the spatial/temporal relationships. It's a little harder to work through a diagram or picture illustrating the instructions because it's like, "Woah! so much information at once!" I think in words but when I write it's like I'm "looking" at something in my head, but that's really describing more a phenomenon of drawing from many different sources than from a strictly visual one.