Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 90–103 | Cite as

The Effect of Two-dimensional and Stereoscopic Presentation on Middle School Students’ Performance of Spatial Cognition Tasks



We investigated whether and how student performance on three types of spatial cognition tasks differs when worked with two-dimensional or stereoscopic representations. We recruited nineteen middle school students visiting a planetarium in a large Midwestern American city and analyzed their performance on a series of spatial cognition tasks in terms of response accuracy and task completion time. Results show that response accuracy did not differ between the two types of representations while task completion time was significantly greater with the stereoscopic representations. The completion time increased as the number of mental manipulations of 3D objects increased in the tasks. Post-interviews provide evidence that some students continued to think of stereoscopic representations as two-dimensional. Based on cognitive load and cue theories, we interpret that, in the absence of pictorial depth cues, students may need more time to be familiar with stereoscopic representations for optimal performance. In light of these results, we discuss potential uses of stereoscopic representations for science learning.


Spatial cognition Stereoscopy 3D Visualizations Cognitive load Cue theory 



This study was partially supported by the Visiting Scholar Program at Adler Planetarium, the Tufts University Faculty Research Award Committee (FRAC) and the Wright Center for Science Education at Tufts University. We thank members of the Adler staff including Dr. Lucy Fortson, Dr. Mark Subbarao, Julieta Aguilera, Dr. Doug Roberts and Karen Carney. We also thank Dr. Yvonne Wakeford and her staff at the Tufts’ Office of the Vice Provost. Finally, we thank Dr. Yael Kali, Dr. Holly Taylor, Dr. Eric Chaisson and an anonymous referee for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education, Wright Center for Science EducationTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of EducationTufts UniversityMedfordUSA

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