New research determines that spatial skills critical for science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be taught.
The ability to improve spatial skills and whether such improvement lasts or transfers to new tasks has been debatable in the scientific community. In the new study, researchers reviewed and aggregated 217 published studies on educational interventions to improve spatial thinking.
Experts say the research effort is the first comprehensive analysis of credible studies on such interventions.
Spatial skills include the aptitude to do tasks such as putting together puzzles.
In the study, David Uttal and fellow researchers at Northwestern University with Nora Newcombe, professor of psychology at Temple reviewed the studies that assessed the ability to improve spatial thinking.
“There are limitations involved with looking at individual studies one by one. What we found when we brought together this large body of literature on training effects and analyzed it was a very powerful message, said Newcombe.
“People of all ages can improve at all types of spatial skills through training, period.”
Investigators believe the results from this new meta-analysis affirm that spatial skills can be improved.
The researchers found that spatial skills are indeed malleable and that spatial training transfers to other fields.
“Our findings have significant real world implications by showing that training can have an impact on a technological workforce. With the right training more high school students will be able to consider engineering and other scientific fields as a career option,” said Newcombe.
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 say.
“Our hope is that our findings on how to train spatial skills will ultimately lead to highly effective ways to improve STEM performance,” said Uttal, the lead author on the study.
In the review, researchers discovered gender and age are not impediments to learning or improving spatial skills and that even a small amount of training can improve spatial reasoning and have long-lasting impact.
The study is published in Psychological Bulletin.
Source: Temple University