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What is Spatial Intelligence?

By Rachel Burkot
Updated May 21, 2024
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Spatial intelligence is the ability to draw accurate conclusions from observing a three-dimensional (3D) environment. It involves interpreting and making judgements about the shape, size, movement, and relationships between surrounding objects, as well as the ability to envision and manipulate 3D models of things that are not immediately visible. People use this form of reasoning in many everyday activities, ranging from organizing a room to driving a car. This type of intelligence stems from the right side of the brain, and injuries or strokes to this area may diminish it.

Vision and the Other Senses

People often discuss vision in conjunction with spatial intelligence, although the determination of spatial ability and visual acuity are completely separate. Indeed, the other senses can and do play a role in spatial intelligence. For example, a blind person can still identify a three-dimensional shape by touch, or interpret the distance and direction of a moving vehicle by listening to changes in the sound it makes. Although humans rely heavily on vision when using spatial skills, a person may have perfect vision but poor spatial intelligence, or vice versa.


The capacity to retain the form of something in the mind's eye and picture it from different perspectives is key to this type of intelligence. This requires imagination and creativity. Spatial intelligence allows somebody to know where he or she is in relation to other objects or locations, and factors heavily into a person's ability to follow a map. The mind must be able to take an abstract two-dimensional image, and interpret it in relation to a three-dimensional environment. It also involves the ability to anticipate the path and speed of moving objects, as is necessary when catching a baseball or crossing a busy street.

Practical Applications

A person who has an easy time picturing the world from an observer's viewpoint — who perhaps even does it often without thinking — will likely have higher spatial intelligence than someone who finds it difficult to think about life this way. The highest visual spatial intelligences result from unique abilities to take up different positions in the mind's eye, such as a fly on the wall or a person standing behind a curtain. Those who score well in this area usually succeed in arts or science fields, as well as some sports. Artists, architects, physicists, navigators, chess players, and golfers are some callings that those with high spatial intelligences often excel at.

Those who have strong spatial perception are likely to enjoy art, rarely get lost, imagine things very vividly, use metaphors, and "look at the big picture" when solving problems. These people are often referred to as visual learners, and they often possess "photographic" memories, retaining images more easily than words or numbers. They think in pictures and prefer to have a pictorial accompaniment to any verbal instruction.

Testing for and Improving Spatial Acuity

Many different spatial intelligence tests exist to determine a person's strength in this area. These tests may be given alone, or as a part of a broader intelligence test, which may even be a part of some job interview processes. There are a number of ways to strengthen this type of intelligence, including using puzzles and brain games that focus on mapping and visualization scenarios. Some common hobbies are also thought to be helpful such as still and video photography, flying model airplanes, and geo-caching. While some people are naturally gifted in this area, nearly anyone can become better with dedicated practice.

Brain Injuries and Ailments

Any damage to the right side of the brain, such as an injury caused by something hitting the head with great force or a stroke, clot, or aneurism that interferes with blood flow to this area, can reduce this type of ability. Dementia resulting from Alzheimer's disease can produce similar results in some patients; certain types of brain surgery may also put a patient at risk for losing some level of spatial intelligence. When this happens, the victim or patient will often have trouble determining or remembering where he is, and may also become less adept at problem solving in general. In some cases, partial or full ability may be regained over time, but in others the loss of ability will be permanent.

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Discussion Comments
By audichick — On Jul 09, 2010

Good spatial skills can also lead to better drivers. People who think more with the right side of their brain can judge speeds and distances well, leading to better reaction times, car spacing and a more fluid speed deceleration.

By banana1985 — On Jul 09, 2010

People with high spatial skills can also excel in sports. Someone who can picture a field or court from a different angle can better anticipate where a ball or an opponent might end up.

A baseball outfielder can better gauge where a fly ball will end up and can cut it off. A football player can visualize the field from different angles and find the open or weak spot, which can lead them to break through the other team's defense.

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