Visuospatial representations and reasoning

We have a paper coming out (Fugard, Stewart, & Stenning, to appear) relating performance on the visuospatial Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices items, as determined by DeShon, Shah, and Weissbein (1995), to position on the sub-clinical autism spectrum, measured by the Autism-Spectrum Quotient.  The more you report having autistic traits, the better you are at the visuospatial items.  This result fits nicely with the enhanced perceptual processing theory of autism.  It also provides more evidence that Raven’s matrices load highly on g because the test is a package of many kinds of intelligence test.

The forthcoming QJEP paper by Borst and Kosslyn pinged my radar as they use DeShon and colleagues’ classification of the Advanced matrices to further clarify the representations involved in visual imagery tasks.  In brief, their main task requires participants to remember a two-dimensional array of dots.  The dots are removed and an arrow appears.  Participants are then asked whether or not the arrow points at one of the locations previously showing a dot.  The task is neat: for trials where the arrow is pointing at one of the dot locations, and when participants give the correct answer, the distance from arrow to dot is proportional to the response time.  This is consistent with a model of visuospatial representation which requires sequential scanning analogous to what one would do with one’s eyes if the array were still visible.

Back to the visuospatial items of the Raven: correlations were nearly .5 with performance on the dot-arrow task, compared to .04 between the dot-arrow task and Raven’s verbal-analytic items.

There were also correlations between paper form board and paper folding tasks, and visuospatial items (.42 and .52, respectively) again weaker (and p > .05) for the verbal-analytic items (.23 and .24).

Now, what’s the best way to come up with a process model of what’s going on in all of these tasks?  I think work by Maithilee Kunda for Raven’s matrices is very promising.  She and colleagues are coming up with algorithms which operate directly on the visual images in the Raven’s test.  These algorithms tend to work best for the visuospatial items.  A big challenge is to get such algorithms to work across a range of different tasks and to use the algorithms to generate new psychological tasks and predictions.


Borst, G. and Kosslyn, S. M. (in press). Individual differences in spatial mental imagery. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

DeShon, R. P., Chan, D., & Weissbein, D. A. (1995).  Verbal overshadowing effects on Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices: Evidence for multidimensional performance determinants. Intelligence, 21, 135-155

Fugard, A. J. B., Stewart, M. E., and Stenning, K. (to appear).  Visual/verbal-analytic reasoning bias as a function of self-reported autistic-like traits: a study of typically developing individuals solving Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices. Autism.

Death and furniture

Found this paper by Edwards, Ashmore, and Potter (1995) amusing as recently I tapped a table to make a point about different levels of analysis. From the intro:

“When relativists talk about the social construction of reality, truth, cognition, scientific knowledge, technical capacity, social structure, and so on, their realist opponents sooner or later start hitting the furniture, invoking the Holocaust, talking about rocks, guns, killings, human misery, tables and chairs. The force of these objections is to introduce a bottom line, a bedrock of reality that places limits on what may be treated as epistemologically constructed or deconstructible. There are two related kinds of moves: Furniture (tables, rocks, stones, etc. — the reality that cannot be denied), and Death (misery, genocide, poverty, power — the reality that should not be denied). Our aim is to show how these “but surely not this” gestures and arguments work, how they trade off each other, and how unconvincing they are, on examination, as refutations of relativism.”

And the point about levels is made:

“It is surprisingly easy and even reasonable to question the table’s given reality. It does not take long, in looking closer, at wood grain and molecule, before you are no longer looking at a “table”. Indeed, physicists might wish to point out that, at a certain level of analysis, there is nothing at all “solid” there, down at the (most basic?) levels of particles, strings and the contested organization of sub-atomic space. Its solidity is then, ineluctably, a perceptual category, a matter of what tables seem to be like to us, in the scale of human perception and bodily action. Reality takes on an intrinsically human dimension, and the most that can be claimed for it is an ‘experiential realism'”


Edwards, D., Ashmore, M., & Potter, J. (1995). Death and furniture: The rhetoric, politics and theology of bottom line arguments against relativism, History of the Human Sciences, 8, 25-49.