The malleability of spatial skills: A meta-analysis of training studies

David H. Uttal*, Nathaniel G. Meadow, Elizabeth Tipton, Linda L. Hand, Alison R. Alden, Christopher Warren, Nora S. Newcombe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1165 Scopus citations


Having good spatial skills strongly predicts achievement and attainment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (e.g., Shea, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2001; Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009). Improving spatial skills is therefore of both theoretical and practical importance. To determine whether and to what extent training and experience can improve these skills, we meta-analyzed 217 research studies investigating the magnitude, moderators, durability, and generalizability of training on spatial skills. After eliminating outliers, the average effect size (Hedges's g) for training relative to control was 0.47 (SE = 0.04). Training effects were stable and were not affected by delays between training and posttesting. Training also transferred to other spatial tasks that were not directly trained. We analyzed the effects of several moderators, including the presence and type of control groups, sex, age, and type of training. Additionally, we included a theoretically motivated typology of spatial skills that emphasizes 2 dimensions: intrinsic versus extrinsic and static versus dynamic (Newcombe & Shipley, in press). Finally, we consider the potential educational and policy implications of directly training spatial skills. Considered together, the results suggest that spatially enriched education could pay substantial dividends in increasing participation in mathematics, science, and engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-402
Number of pages51
JournalPsychological bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Meta-analysis
  • STEM
  • Spatial skills
  • Training
  • Transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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