The Importance of Spatial Abilities

Spatial ability is one of the three specific cognitive measures most important for developing expertise in learning and work settings. The other two measures are numerical and written abilities, which are known to be good predictors of educational and occupational outcomes. However, unlike the two, spatial ability has not been provided the same visibility, given that it is the only cognitive ability not included in popular standardized tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). 

The Science Behind It

Spatial intelligence is crucial for many tasks, yet it’s often neglected in candidate assessments and other measures of success. Spatial intelligence, or spatial ability, is defined as the ability to produce, transform, and interpret mental images. It helps us understand the location and dimension of objects, as well as how different objects are related by helping you visualize and manipulate objects and shapes in your head.

This means that individuals with highly developed spatial skills find success in solving many tasks in everyday life, as noted by Johns Hopkins University. For example, using a map to guide you through unfamiliar roads, merging into high-speed traffic, and orienting yourself in your environment are all activities that involve spatial ability.

The Importance of Spatial Abilities

Researchers at Vanderbilt University looked at a group of gifted 13-year-olds, viewing their spatial relation scores in addition to their math and written scores. These cognitive abilities were found to be accurate predictors of these students’ success years later, while adding spatial abilities significantly increased this accuracy. Research suggests that spatial ability may be a greater predictor of future creativity and innovative success in comparison to numerical and written abilities alone. Children who scored exceptionally high on numerical and written abilities tend to be high achievers in their careers. However, there was an even higher relation to success with those who had scored highest on the spatial abilities test. 

This research is extremely significant as it shows that there is a positive correlation between high scores in spatial ability and high performance in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Individuals with relatively strong spatial abilities tend to gravitate towards and excel in scientific and technical fields. 

Prevue’s Shapes Test for Spatial Abilities 

Spatial ability is sometimes referred to as ‘The Orphan Ability’ as it is the most commonly overlooked skill in cognitive assessments. While all three abilities are positively correlated to job performance, the relative balance of specific abilities can vary greatly between individuals. This means that while those with written and numerical strengths have opportunities to be identified via standardized SATs, someone with particularly strong spatial abilities can go unrecognized through traditional means.

At Prevue, we cover all three areas of cognitive skills – written, numerical and spatial abilities, in our job-fit assessments. It is important that we do not overlook spatial abilities when hiring for certain careers, which on the surface, may not appear to be related to a candidate’s learning strengths. 

Due to the neglect of spatial ability, those with strong spatial strengths may constitute an under-served candidate pool that has the potential to bolster the current scientific and technical workforce. Here at Prevue, we want to make sure that both employers and candidates receive accurate and reliable insights that encompass the full candidate profile. 

This article was written by Baila Glogauer, M.S., I/O Psychologist.