Spatial perception is the ability to be aware of your relationships with the environment around you (exteroceptive processes) and with yourself (interoceptive processes). Spatial awareness is made up of two processes, the exteroceptives, which create representations about our space through feelings, and interoceptive processes, which create representations about our body, like its position or orientation. Space is what surrounds us: objects, elements, people, etc. Space also makes up part of our thinking, as it is where we join all of our experiences. In order to get proper information about the characteristics of our surroundings, we use two systems.
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- Visual system: Visual receptors are in the eye's retina. These receptors are in charge of providing us with the information that they receive from the surface, or what the person is seeing.
- Haptic system: It is located around the body of a person and provides information regarding the position of the many parts of the body, the movement of the limbs, and the physical surface found in what is observed, like speed and stiffness.
Good spatial awareness allows us to understand the environment and our relationship to it. Spatial perception also consists of understanding the relationship between two objects when there is a change in their position in space. It helps us think in two and three dimensions, which allows us to visualize objects from different angles and recognize them no matter the perspective that we see them from.
The most prominent characteristic of this cognitive ability is that it allows us the ability to perceive our surroundings with shapes, sizes, distances, etc. Thanks to spatial perception, we can mentally reproduce objects in both 2D and 3D, and anticipate the changes in space.
Spatial perception is important and useful for people of all ages, as we are constantly using this cognitive ability. For example, when we walk, dress ourselves, or even draw. Poor spatial perception affects how we focus and understand our body's relationship to the environment. Another example would be that our spatial perception constantly works to prevent us from walking into walls, chairs, doors, etc. When we are driving, we have to be careful to stay in our lane and not jump the curb when we park. In these cases, we have to judge the distance, position, and dimension of other objects in relation to ourselves. Even when we want to go somewhere we've never been before we have to orient ourselves, which uses this cognitive skill.
When we develop spatial perception, we develop a spatial consciousness of the locations of things around us. To do this, it is necessary to understand the (up, down, on, below…).
Spatial perception may be affected in some developmental disorders like autism, Asperger's, cerebral palsy, as well as others. In these cases, the problem lies in the lack of understanding of their own body. In other words, the lack of spatial perception towards their body and the difficulty to interpret it as a whole.
The left hemisphere is in charge of developing this cognitive ability. This hemisphere is where math and spatial calculations are developed, which directly correlate to good spatial perception, spatial comprehension, and with ourselves in our environment. Let's imagine that a brain injury causes damage in our left hemisphere, this would cause problems with orientation, recognition, and interpretation, which means that our spatial perception would also be affected.
In summary, having good spatial perception is the ability to situate yourself, move around, orient yourself, make multiple decisions, analyze situations and representations of our surroundings and the relationship our body has with it.
Example: You decide to go to the new café in the mall. As you arrive, you take a look at the map. You are able to find the location of the café, and you arrive on time for an afternoon cappuccino. To interpret maps and symbols in 2D, we need spatial perception.
Example: We need spatial perception to organize boxes, books, or other objects on shelves or in a suitcase. We mentally assess the possible combinations of positions and choose the one that best suits our needs.
Example: When we have to choose a road or direction, we have to be able to choose the perspective that makes the most sense for what we need. To do this, we need to orient ourselves with one of two forms: Cartesian orientation, which uses cardinal directions (north, south, east, west), or use a point of reference. For the latter, you would choose a tree, house, or something else as a point of reference to be able to return to the place that you need to go.
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