Spatial Abilities in Problem Solving in Kinematics

  • Maria Kozhevnikov
  • Mary Hegarty
  • Richard Mayer


This study investigates the relationship between students’ spatial abilities and their ability to solve problems in physics, specifically in kinematics. The approach taken is to consider spatial ability not as single and undifferentiated, but composed of different components. The hypothesis is that different types of kinematics problems require different spatial abilities. Sixty undergraduate psychology students, who had not taken any physics courses at college level, took a battery of cognitive tests measuring different spatial skills, verbal ability and mechanical reasoning. In addition, students were presented with a series of kinematics problems by means of a written problem solving questionnaire. Analyses of students’ responses indicated that different types of kinematics problems require different cognitive skills. It was found, for instance, that extrapolating complex two-dimensional motion correlates significantly with spatial visualisation ability, whereas inferring direction of motion from a graph correlates with spatial orientation ability. However, performance on other types of kinematics problems (e.g., evaluating an object’s speed and some types of graph problems) do not correlate with spatial abilities, indicating that they may require mostly semantic knowledge of physics laws or mathematical reasoning.


Spatial Ability Graph Problem Spatial Visualisation Spatial Imagery Force Concept Inventory 
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© Springer-Verlag London 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Kozhevnikov
  • Mary Hegarty
  • Richard Mayer

There are no affiliations available

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