Spatial Intelligence

The Ability to Process Visual Information

female artist working on painting in studio
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Spatial intelligence, one of Howard Gardner's nine multiple intelligences, involves how well an individual processes visual information. This includes the ability to visualize objects and rotate, transform and manipulate them. It is a foundational intelligence upon which many of the other intelligences rely and interact. Engineers, scientists, architects and artists are among those that Gardner sees as having high spatial intelligence.



Gardner seems to struggle a bit to give specific examples of those with high levels of spatial intelligence. Gardner does mention, in passing, famous artists such Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso, as examples of those with high spatial intelligence, but he gives few telling examples, even in the nearly 35 pages he spends on this intelligence, in his original work on the subject, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences," published in 1983. He does give the example of "Nadia," an autistic-savant child who could not speak but was able to create detailed, fully realized drawings by age 4.

Famous People With High Spatial Intelligence

Taking a look at famous people who display this intelligence shows how important it can be to success in life:

  • Temple Grandin: An autistic savant, Ph.D. and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, Grandin is credited with designing about one-third of the livestock facilities in the United States. Grandin has said that before she even begins to design a facility, she conjures up the image of the final project -- and is able to mentally picture the placement of every board and even every nail. 
  • Neils Bohr: One of the major voices in the early development of quantum mechanics, Bohr's Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen was responsible for some of the most important early thinking in formulating this branch of science.
  • I. M. Pei: Known for using large, abstract forms and sharp, geometric design, Pei's glass-clad structures seem to spring from the high-tech modernist movement. He is popularly known for designing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio.

    Importance in Education

    An article published in "Scientific American" notes that the SAT -- which is, essentially, a widely used IQ test to help colleges determine what students to accept -- mainly measures quantitative and verbal/linguistic abilities. Yet, neglecting spatial abilities could have widespread consequences in education, according to the 2010 article, "Recognizing Spatial Intelligence." Studies show that students "with relatively strong spatial abilities tended to gravitate towards, and excel in, scientific and technical fields such as the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, and computer science." Yet, standard IQ tests, such as the SAT, tend not to measure for these abilities.

    Enhancing Spatial Intelligence

    Those with spatial intelligence think in three-dimensions, excel at mentally manipulating objects, enjoy drawing or art, like to design or build things, enjoy puzzles and excel at mazes. As a teacher, you can help your students enhance and strengthen their spatial intelligence by:

    • Practicing visualization techniques
    • Including artwork, photography or drawing in classes
    • Giving homework assignments in the form of puzzles
    • Having students provide step-by-step instructions or directions
    • Using maps and visual aids

    Gardner says that spatial intelligence is a skill few are born with, yet it is likley the most important intelliengence -- and the most neglected. Creating lessons that harness spatial intelligence may be the key to helping your students be successful in all areas.