Spatial intelligence (SI) refers to the ability to mentally manipulate objects in a three-dimensional space.
In includes the ability to imagine a given object in different locations and positions in that space and visualize it from different angles.
Visual-spatial intelligence is one of the 8 types of intelligences in Gardner’s (1983) theory of multiple intelligences.
People with a high level of spatial intelligence are very good at understanding and giving directions, reading maps and charts, and vividly recalling the details of a place they have visited.
They are also good at identifying the differences in the appearance and shape of objects, noticing new things in a room, or changes in the physical appearance of a person.
Examples of Spatial Intelligence
1. Being Good at Tetris
Tetris is a video game created in 1985 that involves a single player rotating blocks as they descend to arrange them in a row. After a row has been completed, it will disappear.
As the game progresses, the blocks begin falling more rapidly to make things more challenging. The goal is to keep clearing rows so that they won’t stack all the way to the top. If the rows reach the top, it’s game over.
A person with a high degree of spatial intelligence will be very good at playing this game. They can visualize how much rotation each block needs to fit into the row awaiting below. It’s a little bit like a moving puzzle.
2. Being Good at Directions
Have you ever noticed that some people are very good at giving directions? When you need to get somewhere you have never been to before, this is the kind of person you want to meet.
This is because one of these individuals has a high degree of spatial intelligence.
When giving those directions they seem to create an image of a map in their mind. As they are telling you which road to take and when to turn, they are actually traveling that route in their mind’s eye.
They can visualize various landmarks along the way that they know will be helpful. Giving directions is an easy task for them because it is a type of their inherent intelligence.
3. Being Good at Playing Billiards
The game of pool is all about angles. Understanding how the movement of the cue ball across the table then impacts the direction of another ball is an example of spatial intelligence.
In addition to being able to line-up the geometry of a ball’s trajectory, a good player also has to be able to understand where the cue ball should strike the other ball on its curved surface to make it go in the desired direction.
The entire table and all of the balls placed on it are recreated in an image in the skilled billiard player’s mind.
They can go through an entire sequence of shots from beginning to end; from the first break to the final shot. A person with a high degree of visual-spatial intelligence can recreate the movement of every ball in their mind’s eye with incredible ease.
4. Being Good at Jigsaw Puzzles
Puzzles come in all forms and sizes. Some people have a real knack for doing puzzles and can knock out a 1,000-piece jigsaw in a matter of hours.
They just have a natural ability for finding a piece that has just the right shape.
People with visual-spatial intelligence really enjoy doing puzzles of all kinds. Once the pieces are taken out of the box and spread out over the table, their mind can quickly process the images on each piece and its shape. Matching the images of two pieces comes quite easily.
After a few key pieces have been put together, all they have to do is glance at the photo on the box periodically to find the next area to work on. After a while, that 1,000-piece puzzle has been completed in no time.
Examples of Jobs for People with Spatial Intelligence
5. Graphic Designer
A graphic designer combines art and technology to communicate ideas through visually appealing imagery.
When working with text, they will choose the font, size, color, line length of headlines and keywords. They determine the placement and spacing of all elements and have the overall responsibility of creating the entire layout.
By using a range of design elements, they create artistic and decorative images that bring to life various concepts that can inspire and inform others. Their efforts can be used in marketing campaigns to persuade consumers; social media posts to captivate viewers; print ads to compel product purchases; and websites to perform all of the above.
Their visual-spatial intelligence makes them naturally talented in the manipulation of colors, shapes, and words.
6. Pop-Up Construction Engineer and Foreman
What is a “giant pop-up construction?” Well, a giant pop-up construction is a large structure that is built on-site for temporary purposes.
For example, national and international swimming events may be held in different cities. Because those cities may not have already existing facilities to accommodate a large number of fans, a temporary swimming pool may need to be built in an indoor stadium.
A specialized crew will arrive on-site about 10 days before the event and completely transform the space.
In addition to constructing a pool according to incredibly exacting standards, they will also need to construct a surrounding floor, both of which will sit atop the stadium floor. It is an amazing feat of engineering and requires multiple professionals with advanced spatial intelligence.
Not only will an engineer be needed to create a virtual rendition of the giant structure, but an on-site foreman will need to make sure everything goes according to plan. Both of those individuals will need to have very high levels of visual-spatial intelligence.
An architect is a trained and licensed professional that creates a design to construct a structure such as a bridge or building.
They combine artistic flare with design principles that both require visual-spatial intelligence.
Architects play a key role in the construction process. They work with local authorities to ensure everything is according to code and interior designers to help create a specific ambience. Architects may also work on a larger team of professionals in a firm and present ideas to stakeholders and potential clients.
Because the work involves manipulating objects and structures in a three-dimensional space, both physically and mentally, visual-spatial intelligence is necessary. They may first sketch their ideas on paper and later use very sophisticated software to create a virtual rendition of their design. It is a great job for an adult that still likes to play with Legos. It can also be a very lucrative career.
8. Data Visualization Engineer
Data visualization is taking complex data and representing it through graphs, charts, infographics, and even animations.
Displaying information visually can help people understand complex data and the relationships between various concepts.
A data visualization engineer is a person that is trained in how to construct those graphics in a way that everyone can understand. They make use of descriptive statistics to create a picture that will help others make better-informed decisions.
Data-driven decision-making is a key element of a company’s competitive advantage. It has applications in strategic planning, marketing, and tracking consumer trends (just to name a few).
People that are gifted with visual-spatial intelligence will do very well in this profession. Their biologically driven proclivity for holistic thinking and graphic orientation makes them naturally suited to become a data visualization engineer.
9. Fashion Designer
A fashion designer is a person that creates garments using various fabrics, sewing techniques, and clothing construction principles.
They must have a keen understanding of how different garments will fit on the human form.
By taking into account the shape of an individual and the attributes of different fabrics, a fashion designer will be able to create a specific look. People with visual-spatial intelligence have the necessary skills to envision how an article of clothing will fit and the image it will create.
Fashion designers play a significant role in how people look, how they feel, and how they fit in a larger socio-cultural environment.
10. Urban Planner
An urban planner is a person that works with various stakeholders to develop plans for the use of land.
The plans can include creating new communities, trying to accommodate growth trends to adjust current plans, or revitalizing older areas and structures.
They work with public officials, private developers, and members of the affected communities. The job requires analyzing key economic data and environmental studies, census data and market research, to formulate a comprehensive plan. Urban planners can spend a great deal of time conducting field investigations to better understand land parameters and nuances of a project not easily discerned from documents.
Because the job entails a lot of three-dimensional space and considering the placement and rotation of various type of structures, they need a high degree of visual-spatial intelligence.
Pros of Spatial Intelligence
1. Understanding Graphs and Charts
Spatial intelligence gives a person the ability to easily digest information that is presented in a graphic form.
This can include infographics, various kinds of charts, and other forms of data visualization that involve animation.
They can easily spot differences in data presented in a chart or identify trends among and within various concepts presented graphically. As it may take a person with interpersonal intelligence a long time to analyze graphically depicted information, a person with spatial intelligence can look at the same picture and understand it almost instantaneously.
This is because information that is in a graphic form is naturally suited to their type of intelligence. That same person may have difficulty understanding information if they have to listen to it being presented on an audio recording or read about in a report.
2. Vivid Imagination
People with high levels of SI have very vivid imaginations. They tend to be creative and can generate unusual solutions to various problems.
Divergent thinking is one of their key strengths that makes them unique and sets them apart from others.
These are all highly-prized attributes, not just in society in general but in the workforce as well. Most companies spend a lot of time and money trying to help their employees become more innovative.
To some extent, that can help, but you simply can’t turn a non-creative human into a master of innovation by having them attend a few training sessions.
So, a person that is naturally inclined to be creative is a valued commodity in the world today.
Cons of Spatial Intelligence
1. You May Seem Disorganized
If you take a stroll around the office, you can easily spot the people with a high degree of spatial intelligence just by looking at everyone’s desk.
Those with a desk that looks like a complete mess, with papers stacked in unorganized piles that bleed into each other, are the ones with the highest levels of SI.
And yet, if you ask them for a document that you gave them two weeks ago, they will instantly be able to reach into one of those piles of paper and pull-out the one you need.
In their mind, they have a visual representation of where everything is located. While some people need a physical filing cabinet to keep organized, and high SI person simply needs to be awake.
2. You May be a Non-linear Learner
Children with high levels of spatial intelligence can have a lot of difficulties academically. The reason is that most teaching techniques involve sequential learning.
That is, subjects are taught in a step-by-step sequence that is usually arranged in an easy to difficult progression. Solving problems is a result of logical analysis and approaching issues in a systematic manner.
For example, with math, the teacher explains the steps to solving equations, and then students practice. Learning to write involves making an outline that contains key elements, and then writing the essay.
These techniques work well for most students, but visual-spatial children have trouble with sequence. They process information in a holistic manner whereby they see the big picture and not the individual parts.
This can make it very difficult for this type of student to do well in school and build confidence.
3. You’re Supposedly Bad at Linguistic Intelligence
In general, I’m skeptical of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. But, there is the hypothesis that spatial learners tend to have low linguistic intelligence.
This harks back to the qualitative vs quantitative debate. People with qualitative minds (such as people with linguistic intelligence) supposedly often struggle with qualitative information.
However, many of us know people who are great writers and great mathematicians, so I don’t put much emphasis on this supposed ‘con’.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Hegarty, M. (2010). Components of spatial intelligence. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 52, 265-297. Academic Press.
Uttal, D. H., Miller, D. I., & Newcombe, N. S. (2013). Exploring and enhancing spatial thinking: Links to achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(5), 367-373. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0963721413484756