Spatial Thinking & Intelligence

‘An important set of competencies for examining the world around us. These skills enable the geographer to visualise and analyse spatial relationships between objects, such as location, distance, direction, shape and pattern.’ (The Association of American Geographers, 2008)

Spatial thinking or intelligence is the capacity to imagine or visualise in one’s mind the positions of objects, their shapes, their spatial relations to one another and the movement they make to form new spatial relations. It is the ability to perform visualisation and spatial reasoning in the head.

Examples of spatial thinking

  • Getting from A to B
  • Describing and identifying a place
  • Packing up a bag
  • Assembling a furniture
  • Jigsaw puzzle


Skills used for spatial thinking:

  • Spatial perception: the ability to perceive spatial relationships in respect to the orientation of one’s body.
  • Mental rotation: manipulation of objects in our head.
  • Disembedding: separating objects from a complicated background.
  • Recognising patterns and shapes: the ability to retain an image of the simple figure in mind, and look for it by suppressing objects irrelevant to the task at hand.
  • Spatial scaling: transforming information between different sizes.
  • Navigation: moving around in the environment.

In GIS, (spatial) data is used to ask (spatial) questions and find (spatial) solutions. It involves processes such as visualising, interpreting and reasoning.