Cognitive Style: Individual Differences in Object and Spatial Imagery

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The proposed research program will explore a series of questions concerning spatial imagery abilities in the context of cognitive styles. A cognitive style is a psychological dimension that specifies consistencies in how an individual acquires and processes information. Although research suggests that cognitive styles have important implications for educational theory and practice, many previous studies were not motivated by a theory or general framework that species the dimensions along which cognitive processing may vary, and as a consequence suffered from arbitrary distinctions and overlapping dimensions. For instance, although a number of studies have found that the verbal subscale of standard visualizer/verbalizer questionnaires does indeed correlate with verbal ability, the visual subscale is generally only weakly correlated with results on visual/spatial aptitude tests. However, current research on visual information processing suggests that there are actually two kinds of visualizers-those who construct vivid, concrete shape-based images of individual objects (object visualizers), and those who construct images that represent spatial relations among objects and transformations of objects (spatial visualizers). These two types of visualizers display very different patterns of performance on visual-spatial tasks, including tests of practical knowledge, such as the ability to interpret graphs or solve geometry pr9blems. This distinction is rooted in the brain: Neuropsychological findings have revealed that higher-level visual areas of the brain are divided into two functionally and anatomically distinct pathways, the object and spatial relations pathways.

This proposal has three major objectives. First, the investigators plan to examine the development of imagery skills as children age. They will explore the possibility that spatial and object imagery have different courses and rates of development. Second, they will conduct behavioral and fMRI studies to examine how practice using imagery changes performance as well as neural activity in the brain. Finally, they will examine how people in different professions differ in their mental imagery abilities and cognitive styles.

Research Design: 

The project included a series of 21 research studies, each with its own design, data sources, and measures.


Findings will be posted as they become available.

Publications & Presentations: 

Blajenkova, O., Motes M.A., & Kozhevnikov, M. (2006). "Object and spatial imagery: distinctions between members of different professions," Cognitive Processing, v.7, supp, p. 20.

Kozhevnikov, M., Motes, M.A., & Hegarty, M. (2007). "Spatial visualization in physics problem solving," Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal, v.31, p. 549.

Blajenkova, O.; Kozhevnikov, M.; & Motes, M.A. (2006). "Object-Spatial imagery: A new self-report imagery questionnaire." Applied Cognitive Psychology, v.20, p. 239.

Kozhevnikov, M. (2007). "Cognitive styles in the context of modern psychology: Toward an integrated framework of cognitive style." Psychological Bulletin, v.133, p. 464.

Wright, R., Thompson, W. L., Ganis, G., Newcombe, N. S., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2008). "Training generalized spatial skills." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, v.15, p. 763.

Kozhevnikov, M., Motes, M.A., & Hegarty, M. (2007). "Spatial visualization in physics problem solving." Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal, v.31, p. 549.

Blajenkova, O. & Kozhevnikov, M. (2009). "The new Object-Spatial-Verbal cognitive style model: Theory and measurement." Applied Cognitive Psychology, v.23, p. 638.

Anderson, K. L., Casey, M. B., Thompson, W. L., Burrage, M. S., Pezaris, E., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2008). "Performance on middle school geometry problems with geometry clues matched to three different cognitive styles." Mind, Brain, & Education, v.2, p. 188.

Thompson, W. L., Slotnick, S. D., Burrage, M. S., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2009). "Two forms of spatial imagery: Neuroimaging evidence." Psychological Science, v.20, p. 1245.