Spatial Thinking

Barbara Tversky


Spatial thinking is crucial to human existence; in addition, it underlies much abstract thought. Spatial thinking is inextricable from action, real, simulated, and communicated. Spatial thinking involves the body and the mind, sometimes independently, sometimes together. Spatial thinking underlies action and underlies communication. Thus, spatial thinking is not unitary. We inhabit different spaces, notably, the space of the body, the space around the body, and the space of navigation. In addition, there are the spaces we create to expand our minds and increase our well-being. Our perception of each of those spaces and the actions we engage in in them differ, and determine how we think about them and act in them.

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Lecture 1. Thought: Imagery, Space of Body, Space around Body, Space of Navigation

Required Readings:
  1. Tversky, B. (2005a). Functional significance of visuospatial representations. In P. Shah & A. Miyake (Editors.), Handbook of higher-level visuospatial thinking. Pp. 1-34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Tversky, B. (2005b). Visualspatial reasoning. In K. Holyoak and R. Morrison, (Editors). Handbook of Reasoning. Pp. 209-249. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Recommended readings for brain underpinnings:
  1. Kosslyn, S. M. (1994). Image and brain: The resolution of the imagery debate. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
  2. Berlucchi, G. and Aglioti, S. (1997). The body in the brain: Neural bases of corporeal awareness. Trends in Neurosciences, 20, 560-564.
  3. Burgess, N. (2008). Spatial cognition and the brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1124, 77-97.
  4. Saxe, R. Jamal, N., and Powell, L. (2006). My body or yours? The effects of visual perspective on cortical body representations. Cerebral Cortex, 16, 178-192.
Recommended readings for embodiment:
  1. Loula, F., Prasad, S., Harber, K., and Shiffrar, M. (2005). Recognizing people from their movement. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 31, 210-220.
  2. Schwartz, D. L. (1999). Physical imagery: Kinematic vs. dynamic models. Cognitive Psychology 38, 433-464.
  3. Fischer, M. and Zwaan, R. (2008). Embodied language: A review of the role of the motor system in language and comprehension. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6, 825-850.
  4. Barsalou, L W. (2010). Grounded cognition: Past, present, future. Topics in Cognitive Science, 2,716-724.
  5. Kirsh, D. (2013). Embodied cognition and the magical future of interaction design. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, Vol. 20, No. 1,
  6. Proffitt, D. (2006). Embodied perception and the economy of action. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 1, 110-122.
Recommended readings on spatial metaphors:
  1. Clark, H.H. (1973). Space, time, semantics and the child. In T. E. Moore (Editor), Cognitive development and the acquisition of language. Pp. 27-63. New York: Academic Press.
  2. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Boroditsky, L. (2000). Metaphoric structuring: Understanding time through spatial metaphors. Cognition, 75, 1-28.

Lecture 2. Talk: Spatial Language: descriptions, culture, perspectives, frames of reference:

Required Readings:
  1. Talmy, L. (1983). How language structures space. In Herbert L. Pick, Jr. & Linda P. Acredolo (eds.), Spatial orientation: Theory, research, and application, 225-282. New York: Plenum Press.
  2. Tversky, B. and Hard, B. M. (2009). Embodied and disembodied cognition: Spatial perspective taking. Cognition, 110, 124-129.
  3. Haun, D. B. M., Rapold, C. J., Janzen, G., and Levinson, S. C. (2011). Plasticity of human spatial cognition: Spatial language and cognition. Cognition, 119, 70-80.

Lecture 3. Action: Events in space and time.

Required Readings:
  1. Tversky, B., Zacks, J. M., and Hard, B. M. (2008). The structure of experience. In T. Shipley and J. M. Zacks (Editors), Understanding events. Pp. 436-464. Oxford: Oxford University

Lecture 4. Communication: Visualizations

Required Readings:
  1. Tversky, B. (2011). Visualizing thought. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3, 499-535.
Also recommended:
  1. Hegarty, M. (2011). The cognitive science of visual-spatial displays: Implications for design. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3, 446-474.

Lecture 5. Communication: Gesture and Spraction.

Required Readings:
  1. Tversky, B., Jamalian, A., Giardino, V., Kang, S., and Kessell, A. (2013). Comparing gestures and diagrams. Proceedings of the 10th International Gesture Workshop. Tilburg University: The Netherlands.
Also recommended:
  1. Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003). Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  2. Goldin-Meadow, S. Website, University of Chicago.
  3. Kendon, A. (2004). Gesture: Visible action as utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  5. Rizzolatti, G., and Arbib, M.A. (1998) Language within our grasp. Trends in Neurosciences, 21(5):188-194.

More readings, by topic; by no means comprehensive or up-to-date

Course requirements include:

For credit, in addition to participation in class, students should turn in an analysis or critique of research on a specific topic or a proposal for new research enlightened by background reading. It's fine to work in groups.