[Temple] Grandin likes the idea that there are two kinds of visual thinkers, because it helps make sense of differences between like-minded people. It takes visual skill to engineer a machine and to repair it; the engineer and the mechanic are both visual thinkers, and yet they differ. In Grandin’s account, an engineer is likely to be a spatial visualizer who can picture, in the abstract, how all the parts of the engine will work, while the mechanic is likely to be an object visualizer, who can at a glance understand whether a ding on an engine cylinder is functionally consequential or just cosmetic. Artists and artisans, Grandin suggests, tend to be object visualizers: they can picture exactly how this painting should look, how this finial should flow, how this incision should be sewn up. Scientists, mathematicians, and electrical engineers tend to be spatial visualizers: they can imagine, in general, how gears will mesh and molecules will interact. Grandin describes an exercise, conducted by the Marine Corps, in which engineers and scientists with advanced degrees were pitted against radio repairmen and truck mechanics in performing technical tasks under pressure, such as “making a rudimentary vehicle out of a pile of junk.” The engineers, with their abstract visual minds, tended to “overthink” in this highly practical scenario; they lost to the mechanics, who, in Grandin’s telling, were likely to be “object visualizers whose abilities to see it, build it, and repair it were fused.”

Joshua Rothman, “How Should We Think about Our Different Styles of Thinking?”