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Abstract

It has been well established that spatial thinking is important to success in the sciences, but differences exist in spatial thinking between different science fields. Previously Hegarty et al. (2010) investigated differences in self-reported spatial abilities in a variety of non-scientific and scientific fields, including the geosciences. Geoscientists had the highest self-report ratings for spatial abilities compared to all other disciplines. In the present study, expert structural geologists were evaluated on a battery of paper-and-pencil tests that measure domain-general spatial abilities (i.e., the Perspective Taking/Spatial Orientation Test and the Paper Folding Test), a domain-specific spatial skill (i.e., the Geologic Block Cross-Sectioning Test), and self-reported spatial skill (i.e., the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale). Compared to undergraduate students, expert structural geologists scored significantly higher on tests of cross-sectioning (i.e., spatial reasoning about internal structures based on surface information) and spatial perspective taking (i.e., mental transformation of one’s perspective relative to spatial forms), and rated their environmental spatial ability (i.e., sense of direction) as higher, but they performed no different from undergraduates on a test of spatial visualization (i.e., the Paper Folding Test). Taken together, self-report questionnaires alongside psychometric tests can start to elucidate differences in spatial abilities among scientists and in the spatial thinking required by each field.

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