Visual cognitive styles

The Eide Neurolearning Blog pointed to “A new characterization of visual cognitive style” from the Kosslyn group at Harvard. The study (.pdf) shows the distinction of Spatial versus Object visualizers.

“Some people are especially good in constructing vivid, pictorial, and detailed images of individual objects, whereas other people excel in creating images that represent spatial relations among objects and in imagining spatial transformations.”

This discovery is probably a major breakthrough for the advancement of personal information management techniques and tools and their user interfaces.

Some visual PIM techniques simply won’t work for the “object visualizers”, e. g. those techniques (described in my #89) that offer a window full of rearrangeable shapes to extend one’s short-term memory, because the spatial relationships of these objects make only sense to the spatial visualizers.

The object visualizer’s preference for holistic perception of a picture as a whole, is perhaps also the reason for the peculiar reluctance towards structured information views

  • that require expand/collapse controls,
  • that use thumbnailed representative handles for “hidden” information fragments rather than hiding them completely and moving them out of sight,
  • that use overlapping windows to show hierarchically connected information, or
  • that offer the functionality to drag and drop objects beyond the window border, instead of claiming the maximized window, as “sovereign posture” applications (Cooper p. 483) do.

I am very curious about the progress of this research of the cognitive styles. Perhaps one day, a correlation will be found between the holistic vs. dissecting preferences of visualizers and the similar differences observed with verbalizers, some of which are completionists and others are incrementalists (resembling visual rearrangers). Perhaps such distinctions can then also be correlated with orality and literacy, where literacy offers more revisabilty for an individual’s work than orality but OTOH may neglect the process of interactive knowledge creation and tend to regard knowledge as a thing which is more holistic, again.

There are many distinctions left to be discovered, as far as the spatial visualizer is concerned. Does spatial mean that one remembers the spatial position of, say, a document in a pile on the desktop, or is the piler the one who imagines his desktop as a holistic detailed picture, and the “filer” remembers the relative spatial relationships of his folders? I think there will be several more subtypes of spatial visualizers to be discovered, before we can clearly assign one of them to the common cliché of the leftbrainer who dissects his narrow, linear, sequential problem-solving path into spatially coherent pieces.

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