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Picture thinking, visual thinking , visual/spatial learning or right brained learning is the common phenomenon of thinking through visual processing using the part of the brain that is emotional and creative to organize information in an intuitive and simultaneous way.

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.

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 thinking

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, who, unlike visual thinkers, may be limited in the use of visualization skills for mental reasoning.


As dyslexia is believed to affect up to 17% percent of the population and Visual thinking is predominant in around 60%-65%[citation needed] 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 dyslexia community would be reflective of that in the general population, around 60%-65%[citation needed] of each population.


Visual thinking has been argued by Temple Grandin to be an origin for delayed speech in people with autism.[1] However, picture thinking itself is only one form of "non-linguistic thinking" which includes physical (kinaesthetic), aural (musical) and logical (mathematical/systems) style of thought.[2] Among those whose main form of thought and learning style is a non-linguistic form, visual thinking is the most common, while 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 in 100 people[3] and that up to 60%-65%[citation needed] of the population think in pictures, it cannot be concluded that visual thinking has any necessary connection with autism. Moreover, 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, being around 60%-65%[citation needed] of the general population.

Spatial-Temporal Reasoning or Spatial Visualization

Visual thinkers describe thinking in pictures. As approximately 60%-65%[citation needed] 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 trait 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 65%[citation needed] percent of people are people who "strongly" or "sometimes" use thinking in pictures, but also use other forms of thinking. They 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.


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".[4]

Contrary to the apparent lack of interest in visual thinking in the US, in the Netherlands there is a strong and growing interest in this phenomenon. As a result from increased media coverage during the last few years, there is an acceptance of its existence by the general public[citation needed], although criticism remains from some Dutch psychologists and development theorists[5]. Since its discovery a decade ago, a significant amount of empirical evidence in favor of its existence has been discovered, and much research is being done on visual thinking a Dutch nonprofit organization named the "Maria J. Krabbe Stichting Beelddenken" [1]. They've also developed a test, named the "Ojemann wereldspel", to identify children who rely primarily on visual-spatial thinking, in which children are asked to build a village with toy houses and then replicate it a few days later.

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