Spatial Cognition and Science: The Role of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Spatial Skills from Seven to Eleven Years


The current study investigated the relationship between children’s spatial ability and their scientific knowledge, skills and understanding. Children aged 7-11 years (N=123) completed a battery of five spatial tasks, based on a model of spatial ability in which skills fall along two dimensions: intrinsic-extrinsic; static-dynamic. Participants also answered science questions from standardised assessments, grouped into conceptual topic areas. Spatial scaling (extrinsic static spatial ability) and mental folding (intrinsic dynamic spatial ability) each emerged as predictors of total science scores, with mental folding accounting for more variance than spatial scaling. Mental folding predicted both physics and biology scores, whereas spatial scaling accounted for additional variance only in biology scores. The embedded figures task (intrinsic static spatial ability) predicted chemistry scores. The pattern was consistent across the age range. These findings provide novel evidence for the differential role of distinct aspects of spatial ability in relation to children’s science performance.

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