Ecological Validation of Individual Differences in Object vs. Spatial Ability

We investigated the relationship between visual-object ability, visual-spatial ability, and different fields of study/areas of specialization in college students, professionals, and gifted children, specializing in visual art, science and humanities.

Our results (Kozhevnikov, Blazhenkova, & Becker, 2010) showed that in all age groups, visual-object ability discriminatively relates to specialization in visual art, in the same way as visual-spatial ability relates to specialization in physics, mathematics, and other natural sciences. Across different age groups with different professional specializations, participants with above-average object visualization abilities (artists) had below-average spatial visualization abilities, and the inverse was true for those with above-average spatial visualization abilities (scientists). Our results show that object and spatial visualization discriminately relate to different specializations
, thus supporting the ecological validity of the distinction between object and spatial imagery abilities.

Visual-Spatial Processing in Different Domains

Our research on visual-spatial processing in different domains follow three directions:

In our research, we investigate visualization processing and visual representations in different specialization domains such as physics and visual art. A separate line of research examined visualization in meditation, and its the effects on mental imagery abilities, evaluating Buddhist monks’ reports concerning their extraordinary imagery skills.


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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:

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.