Picture thinking

From Academic Kids

Picture Thinking, Visual Thinking or Visual/Spacial Learner is the phenomenon of thinking through visual processing, where most people would think with linguistic or verbal processing. It is nonlinear and often has the nature of a computer simulation, in the sense that lots of data is put through a process to yield insight into complex systems, which would be impossible through language alone.


Information processing in visual thinking

Thinking visually is often associated with the right half of the brain. The visual-spatial learner model is based on the newest discoveries in brain research about the different functions of the hemispheres. The left hemisphere is sequential, analytical, and time-oriented. The right hemisphere perceives the whole, synthesizes, and apprehends movement in space.

Picture thinking could be called "non-linguistic thinking," and people who do such information processing could be called "visual thinkers". It involves thinking beyond the definitions of language and has many personal referents to meaning which cannot be translated.

Picture thinking involves different categorization than verbal or linguistic processing. Linguistic thinking involves categorization of thought in defined, linear forms. It is serial, and it concentrates on detailed parts in the stimulus. Visual thinking involves categorization which is parallel and holistic. Though linguistic thinkers often feel that visual-thinkers concentrate on detail, in fact this occurs because of the extreme memory of picture thinkers. Much of the thinking of children in the preoperational stage (2-7 years of age) is visual. It is hypothesized that autistic people get stuck at this stage of information processing.

Dimensions of picture thinkers

In psychology, picture thinking is often confused with dyslexia, and it is true that people who 'think in pictures' often have difficulty with learning to read, but not all picture thinkers suffer from the normal symptoms associated with dyslexia. Some autistics think in pictures.

Often, picture thinkers have good memories simply because they can visualize large volumes of data, such as pages of computer documentation, which they can simply read from in their mind's eye, or pages of computer menus, for example.

Symptoms that most picture thinkers do share are:

  • Problems remembering abstract chains of letters, like names.
  • Difficulty in explaining concepts they have invented.
  • Writing in a very convoluted style.
  • Natural ability to 'quick read' whole sentences instead of word for word, but when asked to read out loud what they have read they often use other words than what is actually written.
  • Ability to remember exactly the location and relative position of objects they have placed somewhere.
  • Ability to intuitively come to conclusions that are very hard to reach by using normal linear reasoning.

Characteristics of Visual thinking

What a picture thinker is or does is still debated, but some research has been done in the Netherlands where they call picture thinking beelddenken. In particular, the Maria J. Krabbe Stichting is doing research (see link below). Researchers there have developed a method of detecting picture thinking in young children by using the so called "the world game" ( het wereldspel ).

Picture thinkers, as the word says, think in pictures, not in the linear fashion using language that is normally associated with thinking. Of course this is a simplification as a complete picture thinker would not be able to use language.

Picture thinkers can come to conclusions in an intuitive way, without reasoning with language. Instead, they manipulate with logical/graphical symbols in a non linear fashion; they “see” the answers to problems.

Picture thinkers are often inventors, architects or electronic engineers.

You could say picture thinkers are persons with vision.

The book The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis and Eldon M.Braun describes the relationship of picture thinking to dyslexia. Another book, Thinking in Pictures, by Temple Grandin, focuses on the role of picture thinking in autism.

List of people with visual processing

There are many famous people who are/were probably picture thinkers, here is a short list:

External links


  • Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner by Linda Silverman, Ph.D.
  • In the Mind's Eye: Visual Thinkers, Gifted People With Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties, Computer Images and the Ironies of Creativity by Thomas G. Westnl:beelddenken

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