Understanding language, hearing status, and visual-spatial skills

Marc Marschark, Linda J. Spencer, Andreana Durkin, Georgianna Borgna, Carol Convertino, Elizabeth Machmer, William G. Kronenberger, Alexandra Trani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Scopus citations


It is frequently assumed that deaf individuals have superior visual-spatial abilities relative to hearing peers and thus, in educational settings, they are often considered visual learners. There is some empirical evidence to support the former assumption, although it is inconsistent, and apparently none to support the latter. Three experiments examined visualspatial and related cognitive abilities among deaf individuals who varied in their preferred language modality and use of cochlear implants (CIs) and hearing individuals who varied in their sign language skills. Sign language and spoken language assessments accompanied tasks involving visual-spatial processing, working memory, nonverbal logical reasoning, and executive function. Results were consistent with other recent studies indicating no generalized visual-spatial advantage for deaf individuals and suggested that their performance in that domain may be linked to the strength of their preferred language skills regardless of modality. Hearing individuals performed more strongly than deaf individuals on several visual-spatial and self-reported executive functioning measures, regardless of sign language skills or use of CIs. Findings are inconsistent with assumptions that deaf individuals are visual learners or are superior to hearing individuals across a broad range of visual-spatial tasks. Further, performance of deaf and hearing individuals on the same visual-spatial tasks was associated with differing cognitive abilities, suggesting that different cognitive processes may be involved in visualspatial processing in these groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-330
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Speech and Hearing

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