Picture thinking, visual thinking or visual/spatial learning is the common phenomenon of thinking through visual processing.
Thinking in pictures, is one of a number of other recognized forms of non-verbal thought such as kinesthetic, musical and mathematical thinking. Multiple thinking and learning styles, including visual, kinesthetic, musical, mathematical and verbal thinking styles are a common part of many current teacher training courses.
Research by Child Development Theorist Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, another 45% uses both visual/spatial thinking and thinking in the form of words, and 25% thinks exclusively in words. According to Kreger Silverman, of the 30% of the general population who use visual/spatial thinking, only a small percentage would use this style over and above all other forms of thinking, and can be said to be 'true' "picture thinkers".
While visual thinking and visual learners are not synonymous, those who think in pictures have generally claimed to be best at visual learning. Also, while preferred learning and thinking styles may differ from person to person, precluding perceptual or neurological damage or deficits diminishing the use of some types of thinking, most people (visual thinkers included) will usually employ some range of diverse thinking and learning styles whether they are conscious of the differences or not.
Controversy about visual thinkers
Visual Thinking and Eidetic Memory Eidetic Memory (photographic memory) may co-occur in visual thinkers as much as in any type of thinking style as it is a memory function associated with having vision rather than a thinking style. Eidetic Memory can still occur in those with visual agnosia (meaning blindness) who, unlike visual thinkers, may be limited in the use of visualization skills for mental reasoning.
Visual Thinking, Left Handedness and Brain Hemisphere Specialization As one of the three most common modes of thinking, visual thinking occurs in both left and right-handed people. Given that left-handed people account for around 7-10% of the population and that visual thinking is one of the most common modes of thinking for around 60%-65% of the population (60-65 in every 100 people) this would indicate that visual thinking may no essential connection to specific brain hemisphere dominance.
Visual Thinking and Dyslexia As dyslexia is believed to affect up to 17% percent of the population and Visual thinking is predominant in around 60%-65% of the population, there is no clear indication of a link between visual thinking and dyslexia. As visual thinking is the most common mode of thought, it might be expected that the incidence of visual thinking in the dyslexic community would be reflective of that in the general population, around 60%-65% of each population.
Visual Thinking and Autism Visual thinking has been argued by Temple Grandin as a basis for delayed speech in people with autism. However, 'picture thinking' is only one form of "non-linguistic thinking", the others including physical (kinesthetic), aural (musical) and logical (mathematical/systems) style of thought. Among those whose main form of thought and learning style is a non-linguistic form, visual thinking is the most common, though most people have a combination of thinking and learning styles. It has been suggested that visual thinking has some necessary connection with autism. However, given that current statistics by the National Autistic Society UK put the incidence of ASD around 1 person in 100 has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and that up to 60%-65% of the population think in pictures, it cannot be concluded that visual thinking has any necessary connection with autism. However, unless those with autism have sensory-perceptual disorders limiting their capacity to develop visual thinking, such as visual agnosias or blindness since infancy, many people with autism, just as many non-autistic people, are equally likely to think in pictures. As visual thinking is the most common mode of thought, it might be expected that the incidence of visual thinking in the autistic community may be reflective of that in the general population, around 60%-65% of each population.
Visual Thinking and Spatial-Temporal Reasoning or Spatial Visualization ability Visual thinkers describe thinking in pictures. As approximately 60%-65% of the general population, it's possible that a visual thinker may be as likely as any human being to also have good spatial-temporal reasoning or visual spatial ability without the two having any necessary direct relationship. Acute spatial ability is also a traits of kinesthetic learners (those who learn through movement, physical patterning and doing) and logical thinkers (mathematical thinkers who think in patterns and systems) who may not be strong visual thinkers at all. Similarly, visual thinking has been described as seeing words as a series of pictures which, alone, is not exactly the same phenomena spatial-temporal reasoning.
It has to be understood however, that the reasoning employed here uses the fact that these 60 to 60% percent of people are people who "strongly" or "sometimes" use thinking in pictures, but also use other forms of thinking. They not think in pictures almost to the exclusion of other kinds of thinking. Such persons, real "picture thinkers", make up only a very small percentage of the population. Thus the "Controversy" described above might be moot when considering this.
Dutch and Belgian research into Picture thinking
Contrary to the apparent lack of interest in "picture thinking" in the US, in the Netherlands there is a strong and growing interest in this phenomenon. After a lot of media coverage in the last few years there is now not much doubt among the general population that picture thinking is a real phenomenon, meaning that only a small percentage of the population are true picture thinkers, that is persons who mainly think using pictures to the exclusion of thinking linearilly using language.
Although there is still resistance to the idea even by some Dutch psychologists and development theorists, a lot of empirical evidence has been discovered for the existence of this phenomenon, since its first discovery some ten years ago.
Much research is being done into the phenomenon of “picture thinking”, (a literal translation of the Dutch term "beelddenken") by the Dutch nonprofit foundation the "Maria J. Krabbe Stichting Beelddenken" . They are publishing documents, holding congresses and are funding scientific studies and have even devised a test, (the "Ojemann wereldspel") to recognize children that are picture thinkers. In this test children are asked to build a village using toy houses, and a picture is taken from the result. After a few days the child is asked to re-create the very same village. Children who are picture thinkers are found to be much more accurate in re-creating the village than the non picture thinking children.
- Rich pictures
- Visual language
- New Epoch Notation Painting
- Image schema
- Concept map
- Intellectual giftedness