Associations between spatial cognition and maths and science at primary school

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Spatial thinking is the way that we think about objects, their size, shape, orientation and location, and the relationship between objects and between objects and their observers. Recent studies have shown that spatial thinking might be important for learning maths and science. Spatial ability has been identified as a reliable predictor of adult achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) domains in many large-scale studies. In pre-school children, spatial thinking including mental rotation skills and skills in block building have been associated with mathematics achievement in several studies. However, there is very little information on the associations between spatial thinking and Maths and Science in primary school. Our lab aims to explore the relationship between spatial and STEM skills through development in primary school. We hope that by better understanding these associations, we can design tools to help children learn maths and science more easily. 



Lab members



Gilligan-Lee, K. A., Hodgkiss, A., Patel, P.C., & Farran, E. K (2020). Aged-based differences in spatial language skills from 6 to 10 years: Relations with spatial and mathematics skills. Learning and Instruction, 73, 101417.

Bates, K. E., Gilligan‐Lee, K., & Farran, E. K. (2021). Reimagining Mathematics: The Role of Mental Imagery in Explaining Mathematical Calculation Skills in Childhood. Mind, Brain, and Education.

Gilligan, K.A. (2020) Make Space: The Importance of Spatial Thinking for Learning Mathematics. Frontiers for Young Minds, 8:50.

Gilligan, K. A., Thomas, M. S., & Farran, E. K. (2019). First demonstration of effective spatial training for near‐transfer to spatial performance and far‐transfer to a range of mathematics skills at 8 years. Developmental Science, 23, e12909.

Gilligan, K. A., Hodgkiss, A., Thomas, M. S. C., & Farran, E. K. (2018). The developmental relations between spatial cognition and mathematics in primary school children. Developmental Science, 22 (4), e12786.

Gilligan, K. A., Hodgkiss, A., Thomas, M, S, C., & Farran, E, K. (2018). The use of discrimination scaling tasks: a novel perspective on the development of spatial scaling. Cognitive Development, 47, 133-145.

Hodgkiss, A., Gilligan, K. A., Tolmie, A. K., Thomas, M. S. C., & Farran, E. K. (2018). Spatial cognition and science achievement: The contribution of intrinsic and extrinsic spatial skills from 7 to 11 years. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 88 (4), 675-697.

Clerkin, A., & Gilligan, K. A. (2018). Pre-school numeracy play as a predictor of children’s attitudes towards mathematics at age 10. Journal of Early Childhood Research.

Gilligan, K. A., Flouri, E., & Farran, E. K. (2017). The contribution of spatial ability to mathematics achievement in middle childhood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 163, 107–125.

Hodgkiss, A., Gilligan, K.A., Tolmie, A. K., Thomas, M.S.C., Farran, E.K. (2021). The developmental trajectories of spatial skills in middle childhood. British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Research groups and centres

Our research is supported by research groups and centres of excellence.

Cognition, Genes and Developmental Variability Lab