Spatial Reasoning


Spatial Intelligence
Spatial Visualization
Spatio-Temporal Reasoning


Translating bodily motions into abstract, conceptual tools

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible action and interpretation
  • Knowing is … interpreting experience spatially
  • Learner is … ambulant being
  • Learning is … translating (among motions and conceptions)
  • Teaching is … formatting learner motions


Ancient … but only the mid-20th century as a core aspect of human cognition


Spatial Reasoning encompasses an extensive range of abstract skills that are directly linked to physical actions and/or relations. It is the ability to use body-based actions and positionings as tools or frames to interpret and reason. Most often expressed as lists of skills, Spatial Reasoning includes abilities to imagine transformations (e.g., rotations, reflections, dilations), to estimate dimensions and magnitudes, to make ratio-based comparisons, and to orient in space. Spatial Reasoning is also recognized as a necessary grounding for highly abstract competencies. For example, formal logic relies on images of containment – that is, of imagining items contained in (or not contained in) other items.


Spatial Reasoning is one of those competencies that is so integral to human cognition that it has been difficult to even notice, let alone characterize and research. Few criticisms have emerged. Those that have arisen tend to be focused on trivialized versions of Spatial Reasoning in which the extensive cluster of abstracted competencies is reduced to isolated, testable skills (e.g., ability to recognize properly rotated shapes on a 2-dimensional page) rather than a complex of integrated competencies.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

It is not entirely appropriate to characterize Spatial Reasoning as a theory of learning. Research into the phenomenon is not yet sufficiently coherent to justify that sort of assertion. However, things seem to be progressing in that general direction, especially when Spatial Reasoning is coupled to Conceptual Metaphor Theory and Conceptual Blending Theory.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Spatial Reasoning is not a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Spatial Reasoning has been an intense focus of interdisciplinary research for some decades now. Even though research is sometimes fragmented and dispersed, there is ample evidence and sufficient coherence to characterize inquiry into Spatial Reasoning as scientific according to our criteria.


  • Spatial Visualization - Spatial Visualization is a component of Spatial Reasoning, typically concerned mainly with the mental manipulation of shapes and figures.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Spatial Reasoning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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