If you’re smart, you should have an easy time assessing visual information, right? Humans are a very visually oriented species, and seeing the world around us is tied to so many parts of our lives, it only makes sense that interpreting visual stimuli is tied to your overall cognitive abilities. At least, that’s what most people have thought, until professor Isabel Gauthier set out to actually test this connection. It turns out that we have a lot of assumptions about our visual skills, and they don’t really hold up when they’re properly tested.
The first assumption that these tests busted was that people are good at guessing their own visual skills. While not all of us rely on visual skills to find abnormalities in medical x-rays, or track aircraft on radar screen, just about everyone does rely on visual pattern recognition to navigate the world around us. However, since these skills can be built up with frequently seen objects, you can get good at recognizing a specific object without actually improving your overall ability to seek out visual clues in your environment. This means that not only do most people misjudge their visual skills in relation to others, but many tests of these skills have misrepresented people’s skills as well.
Isolating the intended abilities
To really test how well people can find specific visual information, Gauthier designed some imaginary creatures that guaranteed a clean slate among test participants. Since her greebles, ziggerins and sheinbugs were made up for the test, there was no way anyone might skew their results due to a preexisting familiarity with these “creatures.” When coupled with more traditional intelligence assessments, this Novel Object Memory Test (NOMT) allowed for a more accurate comparison between visual skills and other forms of intelligence.
After 2000 people were tested online, the pattern that emerged was that one’s ability to find specific visual information is unrelated to other forms of intelligence. Math and verbal abilities had a decent range among test participants, but their visual skills were more tightly clustered. So while a person may be great at math, that’s no predictor that they’ll be good at visually analyzing fingerprints. Spotting details on video screen won’t tell us anything about your problem solving skills. This may sound intuitive in retrospect, but may actually spur some skill assessments in various arenas, like job placement, to be reconsidered. Now that we know to test visual abilities as a discreet skill, we can finally start to learn more about where people’s strengths actually lie.
Source: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ by David Salisbury, News at Vanderbilt