EVANSTON, Ill. --- Can't figure your way from a map to
reality? All is not lost. Training is effective for
improving spatial skills, Northwestern University
researchers found through the first comprehensive analysis
of credible studies on such interventions.
Improving spatial skills is important because children who
do well at spatial tasks such as reading maps and
assembling puzzles are likely to achieve highly in science,
technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The study considers gender and age differences in relation
to spatial thinking. In males and females, adults and
children alike, even a small amount of training can improve
spatial reasoning and have long-lasting impact.
David Uttal, lead author of the study and a professor
of psychology and education at Northwestern, along with his
co-authors, reviewed more than 200 research studies on
educational interventions to improve spatial thinking.
Their analysis is the first all-encompassing study of how
training influences spatial thinking and how much.
The study reveals that spatial skills are malleable and
that spatial training transfers to other fields. Although
recent research confirms that spatial abilities uniquely
predict STEM achievement, there has been some debate about
whether spatial skills can be improved -- and whether such
improvement lasts or transfers to new tasks. The new
meta-analysis answers all those questions in the
"Our hope is that our findings on how to teach spatial
skills will ultimately lead to highly effective ways to
improve STEM performance," Uttal said.
One example of the type of training that can increase
spatial abilities is having physics students use
three-dimensional representations. Video game playing also
increases spatial skills. "Perhaps the most important
finding from this meta-analysis is that several different
forms of training can be highly successful," the authors
wrote in the study.
"Spatial training programs therefore may play a
particularly important role in the education and
enhancement of spatial skills and mathematics and science
more generally," the researchers said. Spatial training may
be especially effective for young children and for students
with low spatial skills. Moreover, spatial training could
help to increase the number of children, particularly
girls, who take STEM courses and go on to STEM careers.
"The Malleability of Spatial Skills: A Meta-Analysis of
Training Studies" was published in June in Psychological
Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological
Association. The research was supported by grants from the
National Science Foundation to the Spatial Intelligence and
Learning Center. The study's co-authors are Nathaniel
Meadow, Elizabeth Tipton, Linda Hand, Alison Alden and
Christopher Warren of Northwestern, and Nora Newcombe of