How to improve spatial reasoning?
February 21, 2004 11:20 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of exercises/games (or other methods) to improve spatial reasoning? [more inside]

Although I'm pretty good with words and okay with numbers, anything involving manipulating or traversing 3D objects in my head leaves me in a lurch. Some symptoms of my disability:

-I get lost very very easily - I find it difficult to orient myself and I have little to no sense of direction. I guess most people make a 'map' in their heads but I tend to go by landmarks and 'feel'.

-I can't judge how big of a tupperware container to put leftovers in - they always end up too big or too small.

-Still can't park the car properly.

- I'm rubbish at physics and physical chemistry - I only get good marks in these subjects after tons of practice.

Is there anything I can do to get better at this stuff? I'm thinking exercises involving manipulating 3D objects in my head but I don't know where to go to find such exercises or if they would actually help.
posted by sid to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you're probably looking for an easier and cheaper answer, but i recommend getting a 3D modeling program that uses 4 viewpoints (usually these are left, right, top and perspective), and then creating models of things for fun or artistic pursuits. (if you're a student, you can get Rhino for $195. maybe someone else can suggest cheaper/free programs). you will develop a much better sense of what a thing will look like from other angles even as you draw it from another angle. obviously you'd have to get into this as a kind of hobby for a while before you would improve, but i suspect that will be the case with anything else people suggest too.
posted by edlundart at 11:43 PM on February 21, 2004

You might want to practice drawing. Looking at the relationships between dark and light points and placing them on the page might help you.

The world is three dimentional, and putting it down on a piece of paper might be a good way to learn the relationships between what is far and near.

Look at something - when you're trying to draw it - not as a group of objects, but rather as an arrangement of shapes and gradations of light and dark.
posted by interrobang at 12:49 AM on February 22, 2004

Play lots of Tetris.

For real 3-d action, try blockout, which is like Tetris, but you can rotate the shapes about all 3 axes and you're looking down on a grid.

I played blockout before tetris, and I still find tetris utterly frustrating because I want to rotate the shapes about the vertical axis, but it won't let me.

You can find blockout at, but it's an ancient program so you'll need a video card that will display EGA (!). It just ran fine on my xp box with a geforce card though. there are probably updated clones of it around somewhere.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:09 AM on February 22, 2004

In case you decide to got the CAD route, a good free 3d modelling/rendering app is Moray, which uses POV-Ray for its rendering engine.
posted by signal at 1:15 PM on February 22, 2004

You could always take up orienteering. Running through the woods with a compass and a map is sure to help you with that whole "getting lost" thing. You'll get a good workout to boot.
posted by yangwar at 1:35 PM on February 22, 2004

I suspect a large part of spatial skills is simply a matter of practice. Good suggestions so far. I'd add that getting a hobby or taking some kind of course that will frequently and regularly exercise such skills should help. How about taking a class in something like engine repair, carpentry, metal fabrication or welding, sculpture, cookery, photography, drawing, etc.? Just about anything that places big demands on thinking about and manipulating stuff in 3D that you might fancy trying. If you want a more serious mental spatial workout, you could go and do a class in technical drawing or CAD.
posted by normy at 2:05 PM on February 22, 2004

If you're looking for games that'll help with spacial reasoning, you could try playing some Go. It's only 2D, but I find the "thinking out several moves ahead" aspect to be very useful in terms of spacial reasoning. Also, any of the "tactical RPG" console video games might help. These games constantly require the player to correctly arrange his or her characters in a 3D space. The classic in this genre is Final Fantasy Tactics for Playstation 1 or Game Boy Advance, but if you have a Playstation 2, I would also recommend Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. IMHO, if you need better spacial skills, there's nothing quite like playing lots of video games. Most games have at least some bearing on spacial skills, and some are a constant spacial workout, like the ones I linked to above. I hope this helps, good luck!
posted by vorfeed at 2:27 PM on February 22, 2004

you might also want to try working on your spatial apperception. the ARCO manuals for military flight training will help you there.

spatial apperception is the ability to relate direction, orientation and distance of objects in 3D space, and it's possible to actually practice it, thereby getting better at it, and presumable at other 3D endeavors.
posted by taumeson at 4:24 PM on February 22, 2004

I'd second the orienteering suggestion. It has the added benefit of getting you familiar with topo maps and compasses, and gives you a good sense of how far a given distance really is.
posted by Vidiot at 4:42 PM on February 22, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. I think I'm going to try the CAD/3D-modelling suggestion, and the ARCO manual sounds intriguing. I'm so horribly bad at chess-type games and strategy-ish video games that I doubt I'd stick to them for more than a few rounds.

I get a feeling this is going to be a long hard journey, so I better pick something I'm likely to persist with.
posted by sid at 4:45 PM on February 22, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm strangely really good at tetris. I think I'm okay as long as there are only two dimensions.
posted by sid at 4:46 PM on February 22, 2004

First person shooters are good at developing 3D thinking and your general orientation, particularly with more map-based stuff like Capture the Flag. Plus, you can buy the original Unreal Tournament for about $10 now, and it rules.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:02 PM on February 22, 2004

sid, if you need any help on the CAD front, drop me an e-mail. I actually get paid to teach the stuff.
posted by signal at 5:38 PM on February 22, 2004

ping pong
posted by crunchland at 8:02 PM on February 22, 2004

This is interesting for me as my 3D spatial reasoning is not so hot either: I'm ok with maps & direction-finding, which I guess I can normally reduce to 2D in my head, but struggle to optimally pack suitcases, fridges, cars; have all sorts of problems tying knots, etc. I remember having a really hard time visualising the concept of chirality in Chemistry, when I studied that. Maybe practice at knot-tying would be good exercise for the likes of sid & me...
posted by misteraitch at 1:59 AM on February 23, 2004

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