The 3D aspect of visual cognitive processing

The Arts Dyslexia Trust has had twenty years recorded history of successful mediation in promoting the career and learning opportunities of talented dyslexics, both individually and as a particular section of the population, which is in great need of recognition and support.

Now, more than ever, these people need encouragement. They include some of the most creative minds in our society. Unlike other species, the human being’s ability to find answers to new problems without the necessity of rebuilding the individual's whole biological framework has enabled our race to survive the huge threats to its existence that we have faced throughout our long history.

Why is it that dyslexics seem to manifest this creative ability more often than other people?

What is it about the dyslexic brain that makes it conducive to creative thinking?

These are the questions to which ADT is seeking answers. A research programme has been set up with that aim in mind.

Findings to date lead us to believe that it is the power of vision that fuels the dyslexic's creative potential. Hundreds of years ago, this facility was shoved into the background by the discovery and development of language. The tremendous advantage of being able to convey information across large distances of time and geographical space put the written and spoken word in a position of overwhelming supremacy.

Perhaps it is now time to review that situation. For one thing, it is becoming apparent that the human brain possesses several forms of intelligence, not just one. PET?scans and other forms of brain recording have begun to confirm Howard Gardner's theory of "Multiple Intelligences". It is clear that we receive information from all our various senses. Each has developed its own means of processing information and each is useful.

Of these senses vision is the most important. As has been famously said "The human being is a visual animal. No other mammal relies so heavily on vision".

The problem is that our brain organises information coming to us via our eyes in a fundamentally different way to that which we hear or read.

We learn language to begin with by listening to what is said. Sounds are organised according to their relationship in time and so speech is therefore one-dimensional. Written words can also only be understood when read in one direction.

Visual information, on the other hand, is organised according to its relationship in space. It is therefore three-dimensional. We can see an object from many different angles. This gives us very much more information than can be conveyed by a name or description of that object in words.

The consequences of this extra quantity of information which, we believe, plays a major part in a dyslexic's cognitive processing, can be evidenced in any or all of the following traits:-


  1. Exhaustion due to overload.
  2. Disorientation, confusion as to where one is standing.
  3. Confusion relating to time - missed appointments "is there time to get there?/what date is it?"
  4. Not noticing a detail - seeing only the wood not every tree.
  5. Losing track of what is spoken or written, losing track of what one is saying oneself.
  6. Divergent thinking, moving off at a tangent to the intended path, often interpreted as "lack of concentration" at school - misinterpretation of exam questions.
  7. Reaching correct answers to questions but not being able to say how one got there.
  8. Taking longer to read and to sort through possible answers to questions in one's mind, (hence the longer time allowance given to dyslexics in exams).

(In order to avoid confusion it is always important to learn how to prioritise. Mastery of this skill is particularly important for dyslexics.)


  1. A greater capacity for creativity, aided by the following:
  2. More information means more opportunities to find an answer to a problem.
  3. Ability to see the balance of shapes, colour, tone, texture, and direction, in a pictured scene hence potential skill in the arts and in engineering and sciences such as geology, medicine, etc.
  4. "Wholistic"* facility, the ability to see the whole picture and place it in context, seeing the wood not just a path through it or individual trees .
  5. The ability to rearrange the constituents of a package of information, so that it becomes a new configuration.
  6. The ability to make decisions based on the whole picture not only on the received wisdom.
  7. The ability to perceive gaps or misdirection in that received wisdom - to extend existing knowledge by adding to already recorded information.
  8. A tendency to accept uncertainty, toleration of other peoples' ideas, awareness of change, multiple viewpoints and the possibility that one's own ideas may be wrong.

Individual examples are provided and are available, in evidence for all the above factors.

From the above lists it is easy to realise that it is likely that there are more dyslexics in those spheres which require creative thinking than in others. Indeed, many of the most creative minds in our whole history have shown evidence of dyslexia, e.g.. Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Benoit Mandelbrot, perhaps, even Socrates.

One may also assume that students with a visual-spatial mindset are likely to be less popular with the powers that be in school.


Existing so-called "visual" tests are not very effective because they are usually designed by audio-sequential thinkers. It is not possible to reach a position of authority in the academic world without having mastered an adequuate standard of literacy. There is no equivalent necessity for academics to possess visual-spacial ability.

This bias leads to the construction of tests which need answers in words or numbers only. For example: What is missing from this picture (of a door) ? "correct" answer "a handle"; although a mass of other visual information is missing from the picture !

Hopefully avoiding such pitfalls, ADT have designed a battery of tests to help identify visual-spatial thinkers in comparison to those who are audio-sequential. These tests focus on the "wholistic" * aspect of visual thinking as recorded in reports on dyslexics. Each test has two answers: one wholistic, the other linear/sequential.

Those interviewed are presented with up to 6 images and are asked to provide both answers if possible to each, indicating which is preferred or thought of first. No more than 5 minutes allowed per image. (see below).

Analysis of the first pilot study will be given soon and the results summarised.

* I keep to the English spelling of the word which is more truly descriptive than "holistic" which suggests a structure full of holes - a completely inappropriate characteristic.

Susan Parksinson
for the ADT