Painting Artistic Creative Artist Brushes

Study of Spatial Intelligence

In a new study, published in Cognitive Science in June 2017, researchers at University College London and Bangor University have found that artists, architects, and sculptors process spaces differently. When asked to describe the spaces in three different images (a Google Street View image, a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica, and a computer-generated surreal scene), the variation in participants’ responses correlated to their professions.

Howard Gardner comments on the study below:

“I’m glad to see that researchers are trying to understand the different manifestations of spatial intelligence. The decision to look at painters, architects, and sculptors is a shrewd one—and the comparisons make sense. We would expect that sculptors—working in three dimensions—would share aspects of the painters’ and of the architects’ approaches.

Whether these findings have specific brain and developmental implications is a more vexed issue. Everything that we do involves the brain and so it’s to be expected that different kinds of activities involve different brain areas—how could it not be the case? And assuming it is the case, why is this so? There could be genetic reasons (best demonstrated by studying identical twins reared apart), training reasons (how teachers introduce skills), work experiences (what one does every day for many years), or a combination of these things. After all, individuals may be attracted to the visual-spatial professions because of innate proclivities; but even if individuals were randomly assigned to a spatial treatment, we would expect their brains ultimately to change. Whether those who become proficient do so primarily because of nature or primarily through the amount and type of training remains to be seen.”

Thomas Hoerr, MI Expert, Emeritus Head of School, New City School, and Scholar In Residence, UMSL College of Education, comments:

“When I present on MI, I like to spend a bit of time talking about how all of our intelligences might be put to use. I note that, as Howard has written, any complex act draws from more than one intelligence. (In fact, that would be the case for most simple acts, as well.) Intelligences are not used in isolation.

Beyond that, it’s helpful for people to consider the various manifestations of intelligences. Thinking about how the work of an architect differs from an artist makes sense to folks; the dimensions resonate. Likewise, the differences between poetry and prose are quite salient.

For teachers, in particular, I hope that this realization will encourage them – give themselves permission, if you will – to offer different experiences and pathways for kids to learn. It’s great, for example, to incorporate the spatial intelligence in teaching social studies concepts. Alone, I like that idea! Better, though, is if those spatial intelligences can be nuanced, so that there are opportunities for kids to use a range of materials, e.g., paint, clay, paper, and photography (though not on the same day!). The more teachers can envision the various aspects of intelligences, the more they can work to give students these kinds of opportunities.

What all of this does, as Howard theorized, is illustrate the multiplicity of multiple intelligences. That’s an exciting idea!”


For more information on the study, visit the following webpage: