Spatial Cognition

Your constantly-updated definition of Spatial Cognition and collection of videos and articles

What is Spatial Cognition?

Spatial cognition is our brain’s ability to understand our bodies in relation to the space around us. It lets us judge distances, know directions and navigate.

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This ability allows us to intuit physics and geometry and gives us a sense of direction. Without it, we would be unable to navigate, catch thrown objects, or generally function. Spatial cognition strongly activates memory. Activating spatial cognition can significantly improve a person's memory.

Spatial cognition "hacks" are tools that memory athletes use to perform incredible acts of recollection. It is an essential brain function and of particular interest in spatial UIs, such as augmented and virtual reality.

Elements of Spatial Cognition

Spatial Perception: Spatial perception is the ability to perceive and interpret spatial relationships between objects, locations, and ourselves. It allows us to recognize objects in space, understand distances, and perceive depth and perspective.

Spatial Memory: Spatial memory encodes, stores, and retrieves spatial information. It's how we remember the locations of objects, landmarks, and routes. Spatial memory plays a crucial role in navigation and wayfinding.

Spatial Reasoning: Spatial reasoning lets us make logical predictions of objects in space. This ability enables us to understand geometric properties and transformations. We use spatial reasoning to predict a ball's trajectory and catch it. We can also visualize what a bowl might look like if it were twice as large or upside down.

Spatial Problem-Solving: Spatial problem-solving uses spatial information and reasoning to complete tasks. This process can include finding the shortest route between two points, assembling objects, or interpreting maps and diagrams.

Spatial Cognition and Memory

Our brains evolved to understand the physical world before we learned to remember abstract thoughts. This is why some people have learned to trick the brain into activating spatial memory.

The ancient Greeks developed a method called "the method of loci." Essentially, the person creates an imaginary space called a "memory palace," where they store their memories as imaginary physical objects.

Spatial Cognition in UX

Maps and other navigation interfaces are typical examples of how interfaces activate the brain processes associated with spatial cognition. However, most two-dimensional interfaces utilize it less.

Three-dimensional interfaces, like video games, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), activate this brain process.

The tradeoff is that unrealistic physics, perspective and proportions can be particularly disorienting in AR and VR. More realistic environments will activate spatial cognition more powerfully.

Learn More About Spatial Cognition

Take our course on UX Design for Augmented Reality.

Read this blog on exploring spatial cognition in VR: Spatial Cognition — Making Virtual Spaces. 

For the cutting edge on partial cognition research, explore the work of the Tufts Spatial Cognition Lab.

This fascinating study used AR to improve participants' spatial cognition: Augmented Reality (AR) and Spatial Cognition: Effects of Holographic Grids on Distance Estimation and Location Memory in a 3D Indoor Scenario.

Literature on Spatial Cognition

Here’s the entire UX literature on Spatial Cognition by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Spatial Cognition

Take a deep dive into Spatial Cognition with our course UX Design for Augmented Reality .

Augmented reality has emerged as a transformative technology, allowing us to blend the digital and physical worlds to enhance our daily lives. However, the path to create seamless and intuitive user experiences in AR presents unique challenges. This course equips you with the knowledge and skills to overcome these challenges and unlock the full potential of AR.

UX Design for Augmented Reality is taught by UX expert Frank Spillers, CEO and founder of the renowned UX consultancy Experience Dynamics. Frank is an expert in AR and VR and has 22 years of UX experience with Fortune 500 clients, including Nike, Intel, Microsoft, HP, and Capital One.

In this course, you will explore the entire design process of AR, along with the theory and guidelines to determine what makes a good AR experience. Through hands-on exercises and discussions, you will explore and discuss topics such as safety in AR, how to determine whether AR is the right platform for your idea, and what real-world spaces have potential as stages for AR experiences.

In lesson 1, you will learn the origins of AR, what makes it unique, and its colossal impact on human-computer interaction.

In lesson 2, you will dive into user research practices tailored to AR and its unique characteristics.

In lesson 3, you will dig into how to prototype for AR and create low-fi but testable prototypes.

In lesson 4, you will learn the heuristics and guidelines to test your designs and ensure they are practical and user-friendly.

Throughout the course, you'll get practical tips to apply in real-life projects. In the Portfolio projects, you'll build a foundation of an AR product. This will allow you to create a portfolio case study to entice recruiters or developers to make your dream a reality.

Use your industry-recognized Course Certificate on your resume, CV, LinkedIn profile, or website.

All open-source articles on Spatial Cognition

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Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF. (2023, August 25). What is Spatial Cognition?. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

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