For the first time, I have distinguished between individual differences in visual-object imagery (object visualization) ability and visual-spatial imagery (spatial visualization) ability. Until recently, most measures of visual intelligence have assessed only spatial visualization ability, which reflects the ability of an individual to process information about spatial relations between objects or their parts and manipulate objects in space. Spatial visualization ability has been proven to be an important criterion for predicting students’ achievement in mathematics, engineering, mechanics, and physics.
Only in the 1990s, cognitive neuroscience research has shown that the visual areas of the brain are divided into two functionally and anatomically distinct pathways: the object (ventral or “what”) pathway that processes information about the visual pictorial appearances of individual objects and scenes and spatial (dorsal or “where”) pathway that processes information about the spatial relations among, and movements of, objects and their parts, and complex spatial transformations.
Building upon this cognitive neuroscience discovery of two distinct visual pathways, my research has shown that there are actually two equally important and distinct components of visual intelligence, object visualization and spatial visualization ability. Object visualization or visual-object ability reflects an individual’s ability to process information about the visual appearance of objects and their pictorial properties (e.g., shape, color, and texture) and is associated with more efficient use of visual-object resources in the ventral pathway. In contrast, spatial visualization (or visual-spatial) ability is associated with more efficient use of spatial resources in the dorsal pathway.
Furthermore, my research showed that object visualization uniquely predicts (beyond visual-spatial or any other component of intelligence) success across a variety of professions which rely on image recognition and object visualization. Such professions include visual arts, photography, design, and architecture. Object visualization ability is also reported to be important in a number of STEM professions such as biology and geosciences. As these discoveries were made only recently, visual-object intelligence has not yet been included in standardized psychometric tests or training procedures. While previous research has considered spatial visualization ability as the only visual ability important for success in different visual domains, for the first time my research showed that object visualization ability is critical in visual art and design.
To illustrate the difference, compare these wo types of visual images. The picture below on the right is one is a clear example of object visualization, used by artists. The left one is based on spatial visualization, used by scientists and engineers. Clearly, these two are not the same.
Our central finding is that some individuals use imagery to construct vivid, concrete, and detailed images of individual objects (object visualizers), whereas others use imagery to represent the spatial relationships between objects and perform spatial transformations, such as mental rotation (spatial visualizers). Moreover, our behavioral results showed that there is a trade-off between object and spatial imagery abilities.
My lab has developed a number of assessments to measure object visualization ability and its different sub-components (color, texture, and shape visualization). Two of my behavioral assessments of object and spatial visualization abilities are copyrighted and commercialized by Rutgers University are translated into more than 10 languages and used in more than 30 countries in both industry and academia. Below is the example of self-report questionnaire to assess whether you are an object or spatial visualizer.
The questionnaire is currently copyrighted, with all the rights for tis distribution given to MM Virtual Design, please contact the directly if you are interested in using this questionnaire at email@example.com
Relevant research articles: