Spatial Schemas and Abstract Thought

Spatial Schemas and Abstract Thought

Edited by Merideth Gattis

A Bradford Book





Humans and other animals depend on their ability to perceive and represent spatial aspects of the world. We learn spatial schemas by observing the locations and movements of objects (including people) and the configuration of our environment. This book explores the role these spatial schemas play in abstract, nonspatial tasks. Evidence suggests that we adapt spatial schemas for three basic purposes in abstract cognition: to structure memory, to structure communication, and to structure reasoning.

Are spatial schemas mere metaphors that help us to understand cognitive processes or are they actual internal mechanisms? Evidence for the latter suggests that the cognitive structures we develop to perceive, navigate, and remember space are the indispensable foundation of more abstract cognitive tasks. This book proposes the means by which spatial structures might be adapted for nonspatial purposes, and it considers alternatives to spatial coding as a basis for abstract thought.

The book is organized into three parts: the representation and use of space, spatial schemas in cultural contexts, and the kinds of computational and neurological structures that might be involved in abstract thought. The contributors include cognitive psychologists, developmental psychologists, linguists, anthropologists, and computer scientists.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262072137 362 pp. | 7 in x 9 in


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262571692 362 pp. | 7 in x 9 in


Merideth Gattis

Merideth Gattis is Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sheffield, UK.


  • This book will be of inestimable value to researchers now growing up and generations to come. It is also valuable to those already well steeped in the field. There are papers here that I have been wanting to reread (or in some cases, read) for years and had despaired of ever being able to find again.

    Maghi King

    Professor of Machine Translation, University of Geneva School of Translation and Interpretation

  • Dealing with global climate change will pose major issues for the international community and will require unprecedented international cooperation. These issues and efforts to obtain cooperation are certain to be salient in debates about international public policy for many years to come. This debate will be more sophisticated and more likely to yield good results if illuminated by the advances that have been made in international relations theory, and international relations theory will be enriched by being engaged in the debate. This book makes vital contributions to both objectives.

    Harold K. Jacobson

    Jesse Siddal Reeves Professor of Political Science, Senior Research Scientist, and Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Michigan

  • This book provides a valuable overview of spatial cognition and its possible roles in abstract thought—a notoriously difficult issue, but an increasingly important one. Although the book's subject matter is primarily psychological, it includes contributions from anthropology, linguistics, and neuroscience. Spatial Schemas and Abstract Thought should attract the interest of a wide community of researchers.

    Alan Garnham

    Professor, Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

  • This impressive book covers the myriad ways in which spatial representations are used by humans and other animals to support various cognitive activities. It is timely and thought provoking, and lays the basis for understanding how and why space is so important to the mind.

    Lynn Nadel

    Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Arizona

  • This well-edited book contains uniformly excellent chapters by just the right set of authors, all circling a common problem. Spatial representation is not just important in itself, but intimately tied to our underrstanding of time and number, to transitive reasoning, to use of analogy and culturally-mediated symbol systems. Readers will find this wonderful book gets them excited about the future of interdisciplinary cognitive research.

    Nora Newcombe

    Professor of Psychology, Temple University

  • An outstanding collection—broad, up to date, and thought-provoking. A must-read for anyone interested in spatial cognition.

    Lynn Nadel

    Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Arizona