People who are generally considered to have highly developed spatial intelligence include sailors, engineers, surgeons, sculptors, and painters (Gardner, 1983). Their spatial intelligence involves the ability to perceive the visual world accurately. However, these abilities are not identical, and hence individuals may be good at visual perception while having little ability to draw or imagine. Nonetheless, just as rhythm and pitch work together in music, the following capacities typically occur together in the spatial realm, operating as a family and reinforcing one another. Spatial intelligence (Gardner, 1983) involves the ability to:
- Form a mental model of a spatial world and maneuver and operate using that model
- Create mental imagery and then transform that imagery and re-create visual experiences in the absence of relevant physical stimuli
- Produce graphic likenesses of spatial information
In normal human beings, spatial intelligence is tied to the ability to observe the visual world; however, spatial intelligence can develop in, and be extremely important for, individuals who are blind and have no direct access to the visual world. Indeed, many scientific theories have derived from "image" involving resemblances across remote domains—domains that could have been created, or at least appreciated, even by individuals who are blind (Gardner, 1983, p. 174). Such scientific conceptions include Darwin's theory of evolution as a vision of the "tree of life" (with each branch of the tree representing a different species), Freud's notion of the unconscious being submerged like an iceberg, and Dalton's view of the atom as a tiny solar system.
A number of writers have acknowledged the significance of visual and spatial imagery. Arnheim, one of the pioneers of visual thinking, viewed it as a primary source of thought, claiming that the most important operations of cognitive processes take place in the realm of imagery (Gardner, 1983, p. 177). Thurstone (1947) described spatial ability as being one of seven primary factors and divided it into three abilities: to recognize an object when seen from different angles, to imagine movement, and to think about spatial relations in terms of body orientation. Finally, Piaget described infant sensorimotor development as a precursor to the later capacity to make mental images of scenes or events and to transform or manipulate these images without having to be there. As adults, we perform similar mental operations, "thinking with imagery and the body" to remember where we have lost our keys to the car.
Spatial intelligence involves not only a combination of the abilities described above, but also other capabilities, such as creativity and control of fine motor movement. The essence of graphic artistry, for example, lies in the spatial realm. In fashioning a work of art, whether a painting or a sculpture, a high level of sensitivity to the visual and spatial world is required.
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