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First demonstration of effective spatial training for near transfer to spatial performance and far transfer to a range of mathematics skills at 8 years

Abstract There is evidence that spatial thinking is malleable, and that spatial and mathematical skills are associated (Mix et al. [2016] Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, 1206; Mix et al. [2017] Journal of Cognition and Development, 18, 465; Uttal et al. [2013] Psychological Bulletin, 139, 352). However, few studies have investigated transfer of spatial training gains to mathematics outcomes in children, and no known studies have compared different modes of spatial instruction (explicit vs. implicit instruction). Based on a sample of 250 participants, this study compared the effectiveness of explicit and implicit spatial instruction in eliciting near transfer (to the specific spatial skills trained), intermediate transfer (to untrained spatial skills) and far transfer (to mathematics domains) at age 8. Spatial scaling and mental rotation skills were chosen as training targets as previous studies have found, and proposed explanations for, associations between these skills and mathematics in children of this age (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, 2016 and 1206). In this study, spatial training led to near, intermediate and far transfer of gains. Mental visualization and proportional reasoning were proposed to explain far transfer from mental rotation and spatial scaling skills respectively. For most outcomes, except for geometry, there was no difference in the effectiveness of implicit (practice with feedback) compared to explicit instruction (instructional videos). From a theoretical perspective, the study identified a specific causal effect of spatial skills on mathematics skills in children. Practically, the results also highlight the potential of instructional videos as a method of introducing spatial thinking into the classroom.

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