Most psychometric tests of spatial ability are paper-and-pencil tasks at the "figural" scale of space, in that they involve inspecting, imagining or mentally transforming small shapes or manipulable objects. Environmental spatial tasks, such as wayfinding or learning the layout of a building or city, are carried out in larger spaces that surround the body and involve integration of the sequence of views that change with one's movement in the environment. In a correlational study, 221 participants were tested on psychometric measures of spatial abilities, spatial updating, verbal abilities and working memory. They also learned the layout of large environments from direct experience walking through a real environment, and via two different media: a desktop virtual environment (VE) and a videotape of a walk through an environment. In an exploratory factor analysis, measures of environmental learning from direct experience defined a separate factor from measures of learning based on VE and video media. In structural-equation models, small-scale spatial abilities predicted performance on the environmental-learning tasks, but were more predictive of learning from media than from direct experience. The results indicate that spatial abilities at different scales of space are partially but not totally dissociated. They specify the degree of overlap between small-scale and large-scale spatial abilities, inform theories of sex differences in these abilities, and provide new insights about what these abilities have in common and how they differ. (c) 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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