Spatial anxiety: a novel questionnaire with subscales for measuring three aspects of spatial anxiety

Spatial anxiety: a novel questionnaire with subscales for measuring three aspects of spatial anxiety

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  • Spatial Anxiety: A Novel Questionnaire with Subscales for Measuring Three Aspects of Spatial Anxiety


Ian M. Lyons, Gerardo Ramirez, Erin A. Maloney, Danielle N. Rendina, Susan C. Levine, Sian L. Beilock

Journal and DOI:

  • Journal of Numerical Cognition, 2018, Vol. 4(3), 526-553, DOI: 10.5964/jnc.v4i3. 254

What is spatial anxiety? Spatial anxiety is anxiety about performing spatial tasks that include skills like navigation, mental rotation, and mental imagery.  

What was our goal? Previous self-report measures of spatial anxiety for adults only assessed how anxious people feel when navigating. We aimed to create a scale to measure spatial anxiety across multiple domains of spatial processing.

What did we do? We conducted 2 studies: In Study 1, we asked 449 participants how anxious they would feel performing a variety of spatial tasks. Based on this data, we identified 3 related but distinct sub-types of spatial anxiety (mental-manipulation anxiety, navigation anxiety, imagery anxiety), and created 8-item scales to assess each. In Study 2, we asked 223 participants to fill out our spatial anxiety scales and to complete behavioural tasks to assess their skills in mental-manipulation, navigation, and imagery.

What did we find? Each sub-scale was most strongly linked to performance on measures of that particular spatial skill (e.g., mental-manipulation anxiety was most closely tied to performance on a mental rotation task). As such, the three sub-scales should be treated as measuring anxiety about separate aspects of spatial processing. For each sub-scale, higher anxiety was linked to lower performance on the associated task.

Why is this important? Spatial skills are an important part of STEM success. These scales have the potential to provide more comprehensive screening tools for spatial anxiety in adults and is a step toward identifying barriers to STEM education.

Brought to you by Erin Maloney’s Cognition and Emotion Lab at the University of Ottawa

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