Development of Spatial Ability Tests
Our research has demonstrated individual differences in visualization abilities; i.e., dissociation between object and spatial visual abilities (Kozhevnikov, Kosslyn, & Shephard, 2005), and a further distinction between spatial allocentric and spatial egocentric abilities (Kozhevnikov & Hegarty, 2001). Although allocentric and egocentric spatial abilities are correlated, they were also found to have distinguishable characteristics and showed different relationships to real world performance (Kozhevnikov, Motes, Rasch, & Blajenkova, 2006; Kozhevnikov & Hegarty, 2001; Kozhevnikov, Blazhenkova, & Becker, 2010).
Our lab has developed unique tests for assessing egocentric mental transformation ability, the 2D and 3D Perspective-Taking test, which reliably predict spatial navigation performance (i.e., spatial navigation and orientation). This Test is currently used for testing the spatial abilities of navigators, pilots and, also, in Man-Vehicle Laboratory at MIT for predicting astronauts’ spatial orientation skills.
Perspective Taking Test:
Training in Three-Dimensional Immersive Virtual Environments
Most studies on training imagery skills (either through a particular set of training exercises or indirectly through geometry, chemistry or physics courses) have produced at best small gains in spatial skills and limited transfer of training to a different stimulus set. We suggest that the reason for previous limitations of training visual-spatial abilities using conventional 2D tasks that is that encoding of spatial relations and cognitive strategies applied to perform visual-spatial transformations in 2D non-immersive and 3D immersive environments are different. Thus, in our research we particularly interested in investigating training in immersive 3D virtual environments , and the effects of individual differences in visual imagery ability on training efficacy.
Immersive virtual environments are particularly relevant for training real-world egocentric spatial tasks, such as navigation, teleoperation, or medical surgery, which require visual-spatial processing, due to two major factors: immersion and feedback (Kozhevnikov & Garcia, in press).
3D Visualization in Immersive Virtual Environments
Our research on 3D visualization in immersive virtual environments includes the following directions:
- Investigating the neural and behavioral correlates of 3D visual-spatial transformations
- Training visual-spatial abilities in immersive virtual environments (IVEs)
- Using IVEs to facilitate science learning
Recently, more realistic 3D displays have been designed as new, more ecologically valid alternatives to conventional 2D visual displays. However, research has thus far provided inconsistent evidence regarding their contribution to visual-spatial image encoding and transformation. The majority of experimental studies on 3D visual-spatial processing have been conducted using traditional 2D displays. Our research suggests that immersivity is a critical feature of 3D virtual environments for facilitating visual processing and the training of visual ability.
The research in the Mental Imagery lab focuses on investigating visualization processes and individual differences in mental imagery in cognitive style. In particular, we examine how individual differences in visualization ability affect more complex activities, such as spatial navigation, learning and problem solving in mathematics, science and art. We also explore ways to train visual-object and visual-spatial imagery skills and design three-dimensional immersive virtual environments that can accommodate individual differences and learning styles.
The Mental Imagery and Human-Computer Interaction lab research focuses in five main directions:
- Object-spatial dissociation in individual differences in imagery
- 3D visualization in immersive virtual environments
- Allocentric vs. egocentric spatial processing
- Visualization processes in different domains (meditation, science, arts, and medical applications)
- Cognitive style
Our approach integrates qualitative and quantitative behavioral research methods, as well as neuroimaging techniques (EEG, fMRI). Furthermore, we develop and validate assessment and training paradigms for visualization ability, using 3D immersive virtual reality.
Based on behavioral and neuroscience evidence, we formulated a theoretical framework of individual differences in visual imagery, and suggested that visualization ability is not a single undifferentiated construct, but rather is divided into two main dimensions: object and spatial, and that the spatial dimension is further divided into allocentric and egocentric dimensions. All these visualization abilities underlie success at different complex, real-world tasks, and predict specialization in different professional and academic domains.