Spatial Intelligence

Second only to research on the linguistic operations of the brain is research regarding spatial abilities. Perhaps so much research is available on spatial abilities because it is some thing, like language, that we are all called upon to use. In addition, this is one of the primary mental abilities often tested on IQ tests.

An example of spatial abilities is the capability to answer the question, "Is the top of a horse's tail located above or below the level of its chin?" To answer the question, you must visualize the horse's formation. Spatial skills consist of abilities to

1. Experience the world in three dimensions.

2. Understand scale models and recognize objects in unusual orientations.

3. Recall visual images in rich detail.23

The posterior (rear) portions of the right hemisphere are more crucial for spatial reasoning, although damage to the left hemisphere can cause a slight decrease in this ability. For most individuals, the right hemisphere is dominant (see Figure 2-11).

In general, men perform better at spatial tasks, especially rotation of objects, mathematical reasoning, and navigating through a route. Studies have been performed using men and women with normal hormonal levels and women who were exposed to prenatal and neonatal doses of the hormone androgen (due to genetic defects or the pregnant mother taking steroids). The increased spatial abilities apply to the women exposed to androgens early in development. Women who had not been exposed to the hormone did not perform as well. However, they did perform better at matching items, arithmetic calculation, recalling landmarks on a route, and precision tasks. They also showed greater verbal fluency.

Because the hormone testosterone is present in both men and women (at different levels), the next question raised is whether a direct relationship exists between the level of testosterone and spatial ability. Is there an optimum level of the hormone for increased spatial abilities? There is a range on the high end for women's normal levels and the low end

Figure 2-11 Location of spatial ability in both hemispheres (right dominant)

for men's normal levels that is optimum. Too high on the men's scale or too low on the women's scale reduces the spatial abilities. An individual's spatial abilities also fluctuate during the normal hormonal cycles for women and men (testosterone levels for men are lower in the spring than in the fall).24

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