July 16, 2013
Spatial Reasoning Test At Age 13 Predicts STEM Success

The headline: Early spatial reasoning predicts later creativity and innovation, especially in STEM fields.

The study, conducted by psychology researcher David Lubinski and colleagues at Vanderbilt University, provides evidence that early spatial ability the skill required to mentally manipulate 2D and 3D objects predicts the development of new knowledge, and especially innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) domains, above and beyond more traditional measures of mathematical and verbal ability.

"We live in the age of human capital," says Lubinski. "Creativity is the currency of the modern era, especially in STEM disciplines. Having a better understanding of the human attributes that facilitate innovation has clear practical implications for education, training, business, and talent development."

And yet, despite longstanding speculation that spatial ability may play an important role in supporting creative thinking and innovation, there are very few systems in place to track skill in spatial reasoning:

Lots of precocious youth are missed.

"Current procedures for identifying intellectually precocious youth currently miss about half of the top 1% in spatial ability," Lubinski explains.

What I suspect is really the case: current screening methods overweight verbal and underweight spatial reasoning. If SATs are the main tool for identifying exceptionally bright 13 year olds then I can see how many of them get missed. The SAT is too weighted toward measuring knowledge accumulation rather than pure intellectual ability. It is also too weighted toward verbal. A spatial reasoning test is much more g loaded (i.e. more purely measuring innate brain ability). But why not just administer full IQ tests? They are even more g loaded.

Using data from a study that began in the late 1970s, Lubinski and colleagues followed up with 563 students who had scored exceptionally well in the top 0.5% on the SATs at age 13. The researchers also examined data on the participants' spatial ability at age 13, as measured by the Differential Aptitude Test.

I would be curious to know whether there are any outliers where scores underpredicted patents filed and research publications written. A kid sick or lacking sleep on a day when a cognitive test is given a test will under-perform on the test. How big a problem is that?

Confirming previous research, the data revealed that participants' mathematical and verbal reasoning scores on the SAT at age 13 predicted their scholarly publications and patents 30 years later.

But spatial ability at 13 yielded additional predictive power, suggesting that early spatial ability contributes in a unique way to later creative and scholarly outcomes, especially in STEM domains.

Importantly, these results confirm longstanding speculation in the psychological sciences that spatial ability offers something important to the understanding of creativity that traditional measures of cognitive abilities used in educational and occupational selection don't capture.

What would help: online tests that parents can give their children to check their intellectual abilities.

Online tests of a different kind could also greatly accelerate learning because frequent tests improve memory retrieval. The research on testing as a way to speed learning goes against the intuition that most people have that they should study the source material over and over again. Instead, they should study it once and then get tested and corrected on it over and over again.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 July 16 09:23 PM 

destructure said at July 17, 2013 3:22 AM:

I was given an IQ test at about that age. There were 4 parts. Logic, Verbal, Math and Spatial. I scored the same on the first three and 30 points lower on the Spatial. Yikes! Oh, well. I went into STEM anyway. I decided to take another spatial reasoning test to see how I stack up now. When I finished it said 8 out of 9. It was a fun test. But those rascals don't tell you which one you missed and they don't give you a percentile.


Black_Rose said at July 17, 2013 4:09 PM:

I got 9/9, but I always considered my spatial ability to be crap; I suppose I have high enough g to do well on an untimed, supposedly "difficult" spatial test, even though I consider it to be my weakest aptitude, thus it is not "crap" in an absolute sense or when compared against the general population.I just noticed things whether the faces are clockwise, if the symbols are upright, or if the opposite faces are proper (for instance, all correct figures would have a heart and a cross opposite, but the incorrect one, they are adjacent). I am like Khan Noonien Singh, mostly exhibiting two dimensional thinking. I am more of a verbal woman with a strong memory (courtesy of my autism/Aspergers), and low 700 math ability. Regardless of the "perfect" score here, there is no way I can do algebraic topology. I wonder if figuring out whether a given molecule is either R or S in organic chemistry helped; I got two out of three of the highest exam scores in my second year of organic chemistry while I missed the high by a half a point on my other exam. I remember consuming the most time trying to determine whether molecules are either R or S (I got the highest score on that exam); I attributed that to my relatively weak spatial skills. I rarely get lost though in 2D navigation (a manifold of the earth is Euclidean enough) but I have horrible motor coordination and cannot maneuver well in the presence of moving objects such as cars -- I suppose those ability are less g-loaded.

I written down my answers first, then I inputted a "wrong" answer. I got zero correct. I then put in another "wrong" answer and I got zero correct again. Then I entered my actual answers and got (9/9).

I was somewhat tenacious in attacking the spatial problems though, checking my answers twice, and taking my time though to ensure I didn't make any errors. I fucked up on the SAT, scoring 200 points below my true ability due to sleep deprivation and anxiety and the time constraint is not conducive to my careful, tenacious, and unrelenting style, but perhaps, the lack of a time limit allows me to deliberately solve each problem without any induced pressure. I didn't visualize the cubes and rotate the figures in my head though, but used heuristics described above to logically figure out the incorrect one.

Black_Rose said at July 17, 2013 4:15 PM:

Molecules are not technically considered to be R/S; chiral centers are R/S, but a molecule can be considered R/S if it has one chiral center; in that case, the R and S variants are enantiomers.

Black_Rose said at July 17, 2013 4:36 PM:

"I would be curious to know whether there are any outliers where scores underpredicted patents filed and research publications written. A kid sick or lacking sleep on a day when a cognitive test is given a test will under-perform on the test. How big a problem is that?"

In the general population yes. Note that study only examined the number of patents filed and research productivity among the "top one percent"; certainly, due to the number of people outside of the one percent, there would be many people who outperform their "mediocre" ability, but for any given person outside the one percent, this would be unlikely. I don't think one could even impute the increased research productivity entirely to cognitive ability itself; perhaps those with higher g receive higher GRE scores and attend "better", more selective graduate programs, and those people are more likely, due to the prestige of their Ph.D. institution, to ascertain tenure track positions with a minimal teaching requirement and grant money to devote their career to research.

destructure said at July 17, 2013 10:59 PM:

Black Rose

9/9 is pretty good whether you used heuristics or not. I'm sure there's a margin of error but I figure my score is fair. I didn't use heuristics, though. I just "bent" the edges on the 1st cube until I got three adjacent sides -- although one problem required me to create a base adjacent to four sides. That's probably the one I missed. Then I mentally compared the 1st cube to the "bent" sides on the 2nd and 3rd cubes to see if they matched. If the 1st cube matches both the 2nd and 3rd then the 4th cube is odd. If the 1st cube matches neither the 2nd or 3rd then the 1st cube is odd. And if the 1st cube matches only one of the 2nd or 3rd then the other must be odd. So there's no need for more than two comparisons per problem.

Lono said at July 19, 2013 10:54 AM:

I purposely rushed all but the first one - I couldn't help but feel like it was cheating to take as much time as I needed. Got a 7/9 - seems sufficient for my needs.

Al Fin said at July 20, 2013 7:33 AM:

Just make sure the test is "adjusted" so that girls and boys get the same average scores, or better yet, use affirmative action scoring methods to make sure that girls come out on top. Otherwise, you may have trouble getting your study published, or may be blackballed for the rest of your research career.

Sure, a lot of promising minds are neglected by the current system, but it is that way by design. As long as you understand the X and Y of modern educational policy algebra.

If you want to make a difference for the better, find a way for promising minds to bypass currently constructed and entrenched roadblocks and institutional brain abattoirs, and open the doors of opportunity from the youngest ages on. That won't be as easy as most of the trivia (for profit or not for profit) we waste our time on, but in the long run it would pay larger dividends.

Lois G. Richards said at February 11, 2015 7:07 AM:

The success stories always made me happy as I want to see more rapid progress in medical science field.

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