Memory & Cognition

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 710–726 | Cite as

Spatial versus object visualizers: A new characterization of visual cognitive style

  • Maria KozhevnikovEmail author
  • Stephen Kosslyn
  • Jennifer Shephard


The visual system processes object properties (such as shape and color) and spatial properties (such as location and spatial relations) in distinct systems, and neuropsychological evidence reveals that mental imagery respects this distinction. The findings reported in this article demonstrate that verbalizers typically perform at anintermediate level on imagery tasks, whereas visualizers can be divided into two groups. Specifically, scores on spatial and object imagery tasks, along with a visualizer-verbalizer cognitive style questionnaire, identified a group of visualizers who scored poorly on spatial imagery tasks but excelled on object imagery tasks. In contrast, a second group of visualizers scored high on spatial imagery tasks but poorly on object imagery tasks. The results also indicate that object visualizers encode and process images holistically, as a single perceptual unit, whereas spatial visualizers generate and process images analytically, part by part. In addition, we found that scientists and engineers excel in spatial imagery and prefer spatial strategies, whereas visual artists excel in object imagery and prefer object-based strategies.


Mental Rotation Cognitive Style Object Visualizer Spatial Visualizer Mental Rotation Task 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Aginsky, V., Harris, C., Rensink, R., &Beusmans, J. (1997). Two strategies for learning a route in a driving simulator.Journal of Environmental Psychology,17, 317–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alesandrini, K. L. (1981). Pictorial-verbal and analytical-holistic learning strategies in science learning.Journal of Educational Psychology,73, 358–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ausburn, L. J., &Ausburn, F. B. (1978). Cognitive styles: Some information and implications for instructional design.Educational Communications & Technology Journal,26, 337–354.Google Scholar
  4. Baddeley, A. [D.] (1992). Is working memory working? The Fifteenth Bartlett Lecture.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,44A, 1–31.Google Scholar
  5. Bartlett, F. C. (1932).Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Blajenkova, O., & Kozhevnikov, M. (2002, November).Two types of imagers: The new self-report questionnaire. Paper presented at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Kansas City.Google Scholar
  7. Campos, A., &Suerio, E. (1993). Sex and age differences in visual imagery vividness.Journal of Mental Imagery,17, 91–94.Google Scholar
  8. Carpenter, P., Just, M. A., &Shell, P. (1990). What one intelligence test measures: A theoretical account for the processing in the Raven Progressive Matrices test.Psychological Review,97, 404–431.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cohen J. D., MacWhinney B., Flatt M., &Provost J. (1993). PsyScope: An interactive graphic system for designing and controlling experiments in the psychology laboratory using Macintosh computers.Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers,25, 257–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Collins, D. W., &Kimura, D. (1997). A large sex difference on a twodimensional mental rotation task.Behavioral Neuroscience,111, 845–849.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Edwards, J. E., &Wilkins, W. (1981). Verbalizer-visualizer questionnaire: Relationship with imagery and verbal-visual ability.Journal of Mental Imagery,5, 137–142.Google Scholar
  12. Ekstrom, R. B., French, J. W., &Harman, H. H. (1976).Manual for kit of factor referenced cognitive tests. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.Google Scholar
  13. Engle, R. W., Kane, M. J., &Tuholski, S. W. (1999). Individual differences in working memory capacity and what they tell us about controlled attention, general fluid intelligence, and functions of the prefrontal cortex. In A. Miyake & P. Shah (Eds.),Models of working memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control (pp. 102–135). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Farah, M. J., Hammond, K. M., Levine, D. N., &Calvanio, R. (1988). Visual and spatial mental imagery: Dissociable systems of representations.Cognitive Psychology,20, 439–462.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Geary, D. C., Gilger, J. W., &Elliot-Miller, B. (1992). Gender differences in three-dimensional mental rotation: A replication.Journal of Genetic Psychology,153, 115–117.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Green, K. E., &Schroeder, D. H. (1990). Psychometric quality of the verbalizer-visualizer questionnaire as a measure of cognitive style.Psychological Reports,66, 939–945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haxby, J. V., Grady, C. L., Horwitz, B., Ungerleider, L. G., Mishkin, M., Carson, R. E., Herscovitch, P., Schapiro, M. B., &Rapoport, S. I. (1991). Dissociation of object and spatial visual processing pathways in human extrastriate cortex.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,88, 1621–1625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hegarty, M., &Kozhevnikov, M. (1999). Types of visual-spatial representations and mathematical problem solving.Journal of Educational Psychology,91, 684–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hunt, E. (1975). Quote the raven? Nevermore! In L. W. Gregg (Ed.),Knowledge and cognition (pp. 129–158). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. Kail, R., Carter, P., &Pellegrino, J. (1979). The locus of sex differences in spatial ability.Perception & Psychophysics,26, 182–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Keefe, J. W. (1979). Learning style: An overview. In J. W. Keefe (Ed.),Student learning styles: Diagnosing and prescribing programs (pp. 1–17). Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.Google Scholar
  22. Kirby, J., Moore, P., &Shofield, N. (1988). Verbal and visual learning styles.Contemporary Educational Psychology,13, 169–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kosslyn, S. M. (1994).Image and brain: The resolution of the imagery debate. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. Kosslyn, S. M., Ganis, G., &Thompson, W. L. (2001). Neural foundations of imagery.Nature Reviews Neuroscience,2, 635–642.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kosslyn, S. M., &Koenig, O. (1992).Wet mind: The new cognitive neuroscience. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kozhevnikov, M., Hegarty, M., &Mayer, R. E. (2002). Revising the visualizer/verbalizer dimension: Evidence for two types of visualizers.Cognition & Instruction,20, 47–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Krutetskii, V. A. (1976).The psychology of mathematical abilities in schoolchildren. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  28. Lean, C., &Clements, M. A. (1981). Spatial ability, visual imagery, and mathematical performance.Educational Studies in Mathematics,12, 267–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Levine, D. N., Warach, J., &Farah, M. J. (1985). Two visual systems in mental imagery: Dissociation of “what” and “where” in imagery disorders due to bilateral posterior cerebral lesions.Neurology,35, 1010–1018.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Lohman, D. F. (1988). Spatial abilities as traits, processes, and knowledge. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.),Advances in the psychology of human intelligence (pp. 181–232). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  31. Marks, D. F. (1972). Visual imagery differences in the recall of pictures.British Journal of Psychology,64, 17–24.Google Scholar
  32. Messer, S. B. (1976). Reflection-impulsivity: A review.Psychological Bulletin,83, 1026–1053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Messick, S. (1976).Individuality in learning: Implications of cognitive style and creativity for human development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  34. Messick, S. (1984). The nature of cognitive styles: Problems and promise in educational practice.Educational Psychologist,19, 59–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Miller.A. (1996).Insights of genius: Imagery and creativity in science and art. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  36. Milner, A. D., &Goodale, M. A. (1995).The visual brain in action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Moses, B. E. (1980, April).The relationship between visual thinking tasks and problem-solving performance. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, Boston.Google Scholar
  38. O’Reilly, R. C., Braver, T. S., &Cohen, J. D. (1999). A biologically based computational model of working memory. In A. Miyake & P. Shah (Eds.),Models of working memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control (pp. 102–135). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Paivio, A. (1971).Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  40. Paivio, A., &Clark, J. M. (1991). Static versus dynamic imagery. In C. Cornoldi & M. A. McDaniels (Eds.),Imagery and cognition (pp. 221–245). New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  41. Paivio, A., &Harshman, R. A. (1983). Factor analysis of a questionnaire on imagery and verbal habits and skills.Canadian Journal of Psychology,37, 461–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Poltrock, S. E., &Agnoli, F. (1986). Are spatial visualization and visual imagery ability equivalent? In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.),Advances in the psychology of human intelligence (pp. 255–296). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  43. Poltrock, S. E., &Brown, P. (1984). Individual differences in spatial ability.Intelligence,8, 93–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Prabhakaran, V., Smith, J. A. L., Desmond, J. E., Glover, G. H., &Gabrieli, J. D. E. (1997). Neural substrates of fluid reasoning: An f MRI study of neocortical activation during performance of the Raven’s progressive matrices test.Cognitive Psychology,33, 43–63.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Presmeg, N. C. (1986a). Visualization and mathematical giftedness.Educational Studies in Mathematics,17, 297–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Presmeg, N. C. (1986b). Visualization in high school mathematics.For the Learning of Mathematics,63, 42–46.Google Scholar
  47. Raven, J., Raven.J. C., &Court, J. H. (1998).Manual for Raven’s Progressive Matrices and Vocabulary Scales: Section 4, Advanced Progressive Matrices, Sets I and II, 1998 Edition. Oxford: Oxford Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  48. Richardson, A. (1977). Verbalizer-visualizer: A cognitive style dimension.Journal of Mental Imagery,1, 109–126.Google Scholar
  49. Richardson, J. T. E. (1999).Imagery. Hove, U.K.: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  50. Riding, R., &Cheema, I. (1991). Cognitive styles: An overview and integration.Educational Psychology,11, 193–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rouw, R., Kosslyn, S., &Hamel, R. (1997). Detecting high-level and low-level properties in visual images and visual percepts.Cognition,63, 209–226.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Shepard, R. N., &Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of threedimensional objects.Science,191, 952–954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Snodgrass, J. G., &Vanderwart, M. A. (1980). Standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity.Journal of Experimental Psychology,6, 174–215.Google Scholar
  54. Strosahl, K. D., &Ascough, J. C. (1981). Clinical uses of mental imagery: Experimental foundations, theoretical misconceptions, and research issues.Psychological Bulletin,89, 422–438.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Uhl, F., Goldenberg, G., Lang, W., &Lindinger, G. (1990). Cerebral correlates of imagining colours, faces and a map: II. Negative cortical DC potentials.Neuropsychologia,28, 81–93.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Ungerleider, L. G., &Mishkin, M. (1982). Two cortical visual systems. In D. J. Ingle, M. A. Goodale, & R. J. W. Mansfield (Eds.),Analysis of visual behavior (pp. 549–586). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  57. Wechsler, D. (1999).WASI: Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. San Antonio: Psychological Corporation, Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  58. Witkin, H. A., Moore, C. A., Goodenough, D. R., &Cox, P. W. (1977). Field-dependent and field-independent cognitive styles and their implications.Review of Educational Research,47, 1–64.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Kozhevnikov
    • 2
    Email author
  • Stephen Kosslyn
    • 1
  • Jennifer Shephard
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridge
  2. 2.Psychology DepartmentRutgers UniversityNewark

Personalised recommendations