A meta-analytic review of the relation between spatial anxiety and spatial skills

Elyssa A. Geer, Connie Barroso, Rachel A. Conlon, Jamie M. Dasher, Colleen M. Ganley

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Abstract

Spatial skills are key predictors of achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, despite being acquired through everyday life and not formally taught in schools. Spatial skills include a diverse group of abilities broadly related to reasoning about properties of space such as distance and direction. Recently, more research has investigated the link between spatial skills and spatial anxiety, defined as a fear or apprehension felt when engaged in spatial thinking. There has yet to be a meta-analytic review summarizing these findings. Thus, the goal of this preregistered meta-analytic review is to provide an estimate of the size of the relation between spatial anxiety and spatial skills while considering several moderators (grade/age group, sex, spatial skills measure/subtype, spatial anxiety measure/subtype, geographical region of sample, publication type/year, and risk of bias). Analyzing 283 effect sizes accumulated from research conducted between 1994 and 2020, we found a small, negative, and statistically significant (r = −.14) correlation between spatial anxiety and spatial skills. Results showed that effect sizes including mental manipulation anxiety, scalar comparison anxiety, and navigation skill were often significantly stronger than effect sizes including measures of other subtypes. The magnitude of the relation was not significantly different in children and adults, though effect sizes tended to be weaker for younger samples (r = −.08). Our results are consistent with previous findings of a significant relation between spatial anxiety and skills, and this work bridges a gap in the existing research, lending support to future research efforts investigating spatial cognition.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Early online dateFeb 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Feb 2024

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