Rotation is visualisation, 3D is 2D: using a novel measure to investigate the genetics of spatial ability

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Spatial abilities – defined broadly as the capacity to manipulate mental representations of objects and the relations between them – have been studied widely, but with little agreement reached concerning their nature or structure. Two major putative spatial abilities are “mental rotation” (rotating mental models) and “visualisation” (complex manipulations, such as identifying objects from incomplete information), but inconsistent findings have been presented regarding their relationship to one another. Similarly inconsistent findings have been reported for the relationship between two- and three-dimensional stimuli.

Behavioural genetic methods offer a largely untapped means to investigate such relationships. 1,265 twin pairs from the Twins Early Development Study completed the novel “Bricks” test battery, designed to tap these abilities in isolation. The results suggest substantial genetic influence unique to spatial ability as a whole, but indicate that dissociations between the more specific constructs (rotation and visualisation, in 2D and 3D) disappear when tested under identical conditions: they are highly correlated phenotypically, perfectly correlated genetically (indicating that the same genetic influences underpin performance), and are related similarly to other abilities. This has important implications for the structure of spatial ability, suggesting that the proliferation of apparent sub-domains may sometimes reflect idiosyncratic tasks rather than meaningful dissociations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number30545
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date1 Aug 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Aug 2016


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