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Accepted for publication in: Journal of Numerical Cognition
Spatial skills are a strong predictor of achievement and pursuit of employment in STEM fields. However, some individuals experience anxiety arising from situations that require performing spatial tasks in an evaluative context, and as a result, may avoid spatial related mental activities and exposure to spatially relevant experiences. We sought to generate and validate an instrument capable of reliably measuring individual differences in experiences of spatial anxiety. We developed a spatial anxiety data-driven approach, wherein an exploratory factor analysis was conducted within the framework for different types of spatial skills outlined by Uttal et al. (2013). In Study 1, factor analyses revealed that items loaded on three factors that corresponded well with some of the most common spatial abilities that have been discussed in the broader literature: navigation, mental-manipulation and imagery. The three subscales were high in internal reliability and between-scale selectivity. Study 2 then established that external validity was good for the navigation and manipulation subscales: higher anxiety ratings uniquely predicted lower objective performance and lower attitude/ability ratings on established measures within the respective subdomains. External validity was acceptable for the imagery subscale, uniquely predicting lower attitude/ability ratings on an established spatial imagery questionnaire. The overall result is an empirically validated Spatial Anxiety scale for use with adults that also respects the multifaceted nature of spatial processing. This questionnaire has the potential to provide a more comprehensive screening tool for spatial anxiety, and is a step toward identifying potential barriers to STEM education.
[Note: Lyons and Ramirez contributed equally to the paper and should be listed as co-first-authors.]