Spatial reasoning, or the cognitive ability to solve problems by imagining how things fit together, has been shown to be a valid predictor of a child’s future performance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. The newest scientific findings reveal an overlap between spatial reasoning and mathematical abilities driven by both genetic and environmental factors.
The results, published in Developmental Science, indicate that regardless of the genetic influences that link spatial reasoning and mathematical abilities, it is possible to improve children’s spatial reasoning skills. In fact, prior research has shown that early experiences, such as block building and puzzle play, can alter spatial reasoning in children as young as 3-years-old. Additional studies have shown that greater spatial reasoning ability at age 13 is associated with a preference for math-related subjects. At age 18, these same students often major in a STEM field in college and eventually pursue a STEM career.
Therefore, the more we understand about what makes a STEM-ready student tick, the more educators can help children develop the necessary skills. The researchers of the current study decided to investigate the possible relation between genetic and environmental factors that affect children’s spatial reasoning abilities and mathematical performances.
The researchers assessed spatial ability and mathematics in a sample of twins with a mean age of 11 years. The participants were given jigsaw and puzzle tests, along with various mathematical assessments. The mathematical and spatial tests measured different processes that make up the complex mathematical and spatial domains. For instance, the “Hidden Shapes” test required visual-attentional processing as the participants had to identify a polygon that was embedded within a complex pattern. However, regardless of the cognitive processes involved, researchers found genetic and environmental influences to be linked to children’s spatial reasoning and mathematical abilities.
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