Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Two Modalities: Auditory and Visual

redmink's picture
Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

Two Modalities: Auditory and Visual


As a pre-health student, I have heard upper class women’s experience of taking the Dental Admission Test.  A particular section that was brought to my attention was the section designed to test perceptual ability, which focuses on three dimensional manipulation and spatial reasoning.  Also, a good amount of MCAT problems wants the test takers to visualize what is going on in the passage rather than regurgitating what they memorized in class.  These stories got me to be interested in certain types of thinking that are best suited to solving certain types of problems. (4) There are mainly two different thinking modes out of many others:  auditory thinkers and visuospatial thinkers.  The former are “those who learn best through hearing things,”(1) whereas the latter are “those who learn best through seeing them.”(9)  Based on the evidence I found, there are many differences between the two types of thinkers and it is observed that the mode of thinking determines a person’s behavior. 

In this paper, the difference between auditory thinker and visuospatial thinker will be explored in terms of their development and behavior, followed by a discussion of a possibility if one type can be the other.

A person’s mode of thinking is determined early in a person’s life by either a genetic predisposition or some illness during the critical learning period of infancy.  It is commonly known that children are passed down with a certain characteristic from parents.  Also, the genetic predisposition might affect the morphology of the brain.  For example, there are studies about the relationship between the size of corpus collum and specialization of hemispheres.  An interesting clinical record shows that a high number of the visual-spatial learners in the sample had complicated births and went through C-sections more than the others.(10)   It is also noted that reduced efficiency in auditory channel (i.e. ear infections) during the first three years of a child will lead to a heavy reliance on visual modality of the right hemisphere as a main thinking mode.  As a result, a child’s visuospatial ability develops to the great extent at the expense of an auditory thinking mode of the left hemisphere.  (10)

After the major mode of thinking is determined early in a person’s life either genetically or developmentally, it can be detected by many behavioral differences between the two types of thinkers.   As discussed in class human’s behavior is the output of the brain activity, in this case—a different mode of thinking.  Visuospatial thinkers think and learn most efficiently with diagrams, visual aids, and demonstrations. (5) They have an eye for size, space and relationships. (10)  For example, they are good navigators even without maps. (8) They like to read (9) and it is interesting that they use photo reading to read fast.

In contrast, auditory thinkers have certain characteristics such as a good sense of time and an analytical/sequential way of thinking.  They understand in part before understanding the entire problem, prefer to begin with the simple, easy concepts and work through to the more difficult parts until the whole solution is found.  The common characteristic is that they think most efficiently when learned audibly.  They enjoy giving out oral presentation and like to self-talk.  (2)

Auditory thinkers have particular behavior patterns that may be perceived by others as a problem. They tend to take matters so seriously and their rule-bound nature sometimes lead them to experience little joy or spontaneity in their lives.  “Others may see them as rigid and overly worried, or depressed, even though they, themselves, feel quite comfortable with their lifestyle.” (6)

So far, it has been discussed that there is a difference in observed behavior between two types of thinkers.  It is important to note that the outcomes of the different modes of thinking are observed throughout their life.  There is a report in which “sad children out-perform happy children in attention-to-detail tasks,”(7) indicating auditory-sequential thinkers’ characteristic of detail-oriented nature.  In general, auditory-sequential thinkers are successful in class or in school setting. (2)

On the other hand, visual-spatial thinkers who have been dormant in school setting tend to bring out creative nature in adult life.  Some of the brilliant creators in human history such as Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, Edison, Tesla, da Vinci apparently had difficulty with “auditory-sequential abilities, such as reading, spelling, calculation and handwriting (West, 1991).” (10)

Many spatially oriented learners suddenly blossom in puberty (Dixon, 1983). For others, success occurs in high school, college or adult life. One possible reason for this late blooming pattern is that the material finally becomes challenging enough to force the integration of the two hemispheres (Levy, 1982). Most visual-spatial adults compensate well for sequential weaknesses and may excel in such areas as computer technology, aeronautics, physics, engineering, cartography, photography, art, architecture, design, music, dance, theater, mechanics, and mathematics. They are the creative thinkers and visionaries in many fields. (10)


The common case of a student with high GPA doing poorly on a timed standardized test is now explained by this difference of thinking modes.  In this case, the student might be an auditory-sequential thinker, excelling at school tasks.  Ultimately, it would be beneficial if a person can use both modes of thinking.  Auditory thinking is necessary to keep up with detail-oriented work and punctuality and visuospatial thinking is essential to understand a big picture and excel in advanced technology fields.  The next focus is the possibility of the overlap between the two modes.  Can people who are good at one be good at the other, too? 

Deity meditation is one example that raises visuospatial abilities temporarily.  There is a report in which Buddhist monks have outstanding visuospatial skills and are able to store complex images in their visual short-term memory for a long time.  During Deity Yoga meditation, the practitioner keep visualizing a three-dimensional image of deity and his/her entourage in detail, simultaneously connecting the mental image to other factors such as the deity's emotions and environment.  When experienced Deity Yoga meditation practitioners participated in visuospatial tasks designed to test mental rotation abilities and visual memory, practitioners of the Deity Yoga style of meditation showed a dramatic improvement on both tasks after 20 minutes of meditation. (3)  Although the improvement was temporary, it’s evident that a visuospatial ability can be reawakened for people who had been absolutely an auditory-sequential thinker through constant focusing on the particular image in detail connecting all five senses to it.  Although there is no empirical evidence in which an auditory thinker can completely turn into a visuospatial thinker, it is possible to rediscover his/her potential in visuospatial ability through intently focusing on the particular image in minute detail.

In this paper, much of the discussion revolved around how different thinking modes generates different behavior among individuals.  Started from my interest in the fact that certain types of thinking are best suited to solving certain types of problems, it was learned that auditory thinkers are early boomers, whereas visuospatial thinkers are late boomers in a sense that the former excel at school tasks and the latter tend to bring creative production later in life.  Because the way they perceive the world is different, they behave differently and the direction of their life is not the same.  Given the same input, they interpret it differently and from that information taken from the environment using their own thinking mode, they approach life problems in various ways. 

The answer to the question, “Can one be the other?” is in the gray area now because although it is possible to improve other mode of thinking, it is temporary and would go away when disused.  The next question arising from this is about flexibility in different modes of thinking.  Can a switching brain exist? In other words, can we permanently be both types of thinkers and mediate to choose anything when needed?  Much needs to be studied to answer this question.  But once found, it will be a great starting point to enhance brain flexibility and to introduce many implications for treatment of many mental diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, and memory loss.  Ultimately, by having a switching ability between two boxes (auditory and visuospatial thinking boxes) in the brain, the switching brain would provide a leeway to understand the world from more various perspectives—a way to get it less wrong.













Works Cited

1. "Auditory Learning - Learning Styles." Homework Tips - Help With Homework. 14 May 2009


2. "Auditory-Sequential Learner vs. Visual-Spatial Learner." | An Education & Child

                Development Site for Parents | Parenting & Educational Resource. 14 May 2009


3. "Buddhist Deity Meditation Temporarily Augments Visuospatial Abilities, Study Suggests." Science

                Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. 14 May 2009


4. "Certain Types Of Thinking Are Best Suited To Certain Types Of Problem-solving." Science Daily: News

                & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. 14 May 2009


5. "Helping Visual Learners Succeed." | An Education & Child Development Site for

                Parents | Parenting & Educational Resource. 14 May 2009


6. "Issues with Auditory-Sequential Thinkers." A Bundle of Contradictions. 14 May 2009


7. "Sad Children Out-perform Happy Children In Attention-to-detail Tasks." Science Daily: News &

                Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. 14 May 2009


8. "Virtual Reality for Navigation Skills -- Vision Researchers Test Theory on Visual Orientation." Science

                Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. 14 May 2009


9. "Visual Learning - Styles of Learning." Homework Tips - Help With Homework. 14 May 2009


10. Visual-Spatial Resource. 14 May 2009 <>.


Paul Grobstein's picture

auditory vs visual thinking ...

"those who learn best through hearing things,”...“those who learn best through seeing them.”

An intriguing distinction.  Yes, probably relates to "analytical" versus "intuitive" (story teller versus cognitive unconscious?) but may relate as well (or additionally) to interactivity.  Some people work best using continual feedback, others do better by working more alone?