Are Visual Perceptual Skills Related to Mathematics Ability in Second through Sixth Grade Children?

Article excerpt


Controversy exists regarding the relation between visual perceptual ability and mathematics. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether or not poor mathematics achievement was related to performance on tests of visual discrimination and visual memory. A masked investigation of visual perception and academics in 171 second through sixth grade children (mean age = 10.08 years) from a middle class, primarily white, elementary school near Columbus, Ohio was performed. Visual perceptual skills were assessed using the VMI Supplemental Developmental Test of Visual Perception (VP) and a new test of Visual Memory. The California Achievement Test-5 (CAT) and the Test of Cognitive Skills-2 were administered by the school and the scores were used as measures of mathematics achievement and cognitive ability, respectively. Age and verbal ability were controlled in all regression analyses. Logistic regressions revealed that poor visual perceptual skill was significantly related to poor mathematics ability (Visual Memory (aOR = 0.855, p = 0.039) and Visual Perception (aOR = 0.971, p = 0.048)). However, a logistic analysis that included both visual perceptual areas, revealed a significant relation for only the new test of Visual Memory (p = 0.039). Poor visual perceptual ability should be considered to be amongst the skills significantly related to poor mathematics achievement.



Visual perception refers to the process of interpreting and organizing visual information (Kavale, 1982). Visual perceptual skill is often subdivided into areas such as visual discrimination and visual memory. Visual discrimination involves the ability to attend to and identify a figure's distinguishing features and details, such as shape, orientation, color and size. Visual memory refers to the ability to remember a visual image.

It is reasonable to think that a relation may exist between visual perceptual skill and mathematical ability. For example, good visual discrimination/analysis skills could assist children in discriminating between numbers, differentiating between arithmetic signs, and breaking down problems into manageable components. In addition, good visual discrimination and visual memory skills would be helpful when spatially organizing calculations or solving geometry and word problems. Furthermore, good visual memory skills could also be instrumental when learning multiplication tables, retaining what has been read in a word problem, and copying assignments from the board to the paper. In another light, while simultaneous visual processing skills should be helpful when solving geometry problems that must be solved by looking at the problem as a whole, sequential visual processing skills should be instrumental when solving word problems and organizing calculations that must be solved in a sequential fashion. In fact, a significant relationship between visual perceptual skill and mathematics abilities has been previously reported (Kulp, 1999; Solan, 1987). Furthermore, even authors who have expressed a difference of opinion have reported a difference in visual perceptual skill between good and poor readers (e.g., on a test which involved copying geometric figures, a "draw a bicycle" test (p < 0.0001), and the "draw a clock" test) (Helveston et al., 1985; Solan, 1988; Stolzberg, 1986). In addition, several studies have shown that deficits in visual perceptual skill can be remediated with therapy (Halliwell & Solan, 1972; Rosner & Rosner, 1986; Seiderman, 1980; Solan & Ciner, 1989; Streff, Poynter, Jinks, & Wolff, 1990). Unlike previous work, which has largely been correlational, the current study was designed to determine whether or not performance on tests of visual perception could predict the children with poor current achievement in mathematics.

Therefore, this was a masked investigation of the ability of visual discrimination and visual memory scores to predict currently reduced mathematics achievement. …


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