The Highlands Company Blog

Spatial Reasoning: Our Preference for the Tangible vs. the Intangible

Natural abilities influence almost every aspect of our lives. They influence how we interact with others, what we choose to do, what we learn how to do, and how our brain reasons things out. As we continue our series on natural abilities, our next topic for consideration is one of the Spatial Abilities.

The Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) measures two types of Spatial Abilities: Spatial Relations Visualization (SRV) and Spatial Relations Theory (SRT). The two abilities need to be considered individually as well as together, because it’s possible to be strong in one and not the other.

We’ll look at SRV first. This is the ability to see in three dimensions when only given two, and has a significant impact upon the type of work that feels most satisfying.

High Scores on the SRV Continuum

high spatial relations visualization natural ability

People at the high end of the SRV continuum relate best to the tangible, concrete world. Sometimes described as structural, these people find great comfort in working with their hands, producing a concrete product, seeing how solid objects fit or work, and generally like to use this hands-on ability in the work they do.

Structural people are driven to spend the majority of their time connected to the tangible world and would feel like something was missing if they couldn’t have that regular connection.

Some of the traditional career fields people with the ability to reason in 3D gravitate towards include:

  • Engineering
  • Construction
  • Medicine
  • Art

Low Scores on the SRV Continuum

spatial relations ability

People at the low end of the SRV continuum relate best to the intangible world. These people feel at home in the world of words, ideas, relationships, plans, policies, and feelings. While working with tangible things may be a regular part of their lives, they learn how to function in the concrete world on an as-needed basis. They appreciate that others have that ability, but they themselves are driven to spend the majority of their time connected to the intangible world.

Some of the traditional career fields occupied by people with low SRV scores include:

  • Law
  • Public policy
  • Counseling
  • Non-technical teaching

Of course reality isn’t so black-and-white that everyone with high SRV scores is in engineering or medicine, while those with low scores are lawyers or therapists. There is a wide-range of subfields within each of the broad career fields of engineering, art, and medicine, or law, counseling, and teaching.

For example, do you think that strong SRV may be more helpful to a structural engineer and that mid-to-low SRV may be more helpful to an electrical engineer?

Or put another way, how easy would structural engineering be to someone low in SRV? Similarly, how easy would electrical engineering be to someone with mid-to-low SRV?

An Example of SRV in the Life of a Lawyer

For the most part, law is a world of solving problems by using words. If you are at the low end of the SRV continuum, law may suit you well, especially if you are in constitutional, corporate, or family law. You will very likely feel fulfilled and well-suited to your career.

If you are at the high end of the continuum (structural) and in one of these same practice areas, you might still do very well—but feel like there’s something missing. Although you might not identify the reason why, you’ll suffer from the lack of a direct connection to the concrete, tangible world. But maybe you’re a lawyer in real estate, project finance, or patent law. Now all the pieces have an opportunity to fall into place because you have that connection to something concrete (the piece of real estate or the gizmo being patented).

Engineering Jobs and Activities

In the world of engineers, there are many different career paths, and depending on which you choose, your high or low SRV score can potentially serve you well.

In addition to a wide range of engineering careers, there are ancillary jobs that pull on the intangible ability set such as human resources, account management, purchasing, and distribution within engineering firms. If you’re a structural person, you might be thinking “yes, but that’s not the real work.” And if you’re in one of these roles in an engineering firm and your SRV is in the mid-to-low range you might be thinking “and their good work will never get to anyone if they don’t hire the right people, develop relationships with their customers, keep an eye on the cost of purchasing materials and efficiently get everything to where it needs to go!”

SRV’s Impact on Communication

Those with strong SRV relate best to communication that includes concrete examples. A concrete example related to the policy, procedure, or idea can make the difference between that person being persuaded or not. Conversely, those low in SRV relate best to the intangible aspects of those same policies, procedures, or ideas. The thought itself is real enough to be persuasive to them without necessarily requiring concrete examples.

An Example: A Teacher’s Curriculum Presentation
You are a teacher requesting the adoption of a new social sciences curriculum. To do this, you need to “sell” the new curriculum to the school administrators. You prepare yourself to present a proposal and focus on how the new curriculum engages the students, is appealing to the teachers because of the ease with which it can be used, and makes parents happy because their sons and daughters aren’t complaining about that class anymore.

While these aspects get the attention of a third of the administrators, another third are not convinced. You have not included anything “tangible” in your presentation. With this awareness, you may quickly figure out that you also need to show them the book, talk about how many other schools have successfully integrated the new curriculum, and the impact on test scores.

To Recap…

Knowing where you fall on the SRV continuum will help you to choose a career path that is most naturally suited to the degree of connection you desire with the tangible world. No one ability works alone, however, which is why your personalized HAB report includes detailed information about how different natural abilities work together.

In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at Spatial Relations Theory.