Michaela Merz

Visual-spatial intelligence or how to park into a small slot?

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Intelligence for me is the ability to derive new information from given information. This includes verbal, visual-spatial and mathematical abilities. For certain scientists also processing speed and processing capacity, creativity and capacity for remembering belong to this. All this can be measured with IQ tests.

In the 8th grade when it was about to decide what continuing school I would attend and what profession I aim for, we did such an IQ test. My results were really good but for one area, where I achieved as good as no points. This was the area of visual-spatial abilities. My result in that field was so bad that they did not think this would be possible, compared with my results in the other fields and they had me do the test again. And look there, the repetition of this part of the test showed just as bad results as the original test. It was clear that in descriptive geometry I will never have good marks and in case I would decide to become an architect my houses were very likely to collapse – apart from the fact that they will have crooked walls and similar.

But I never wanted to become an architect and thus it did not seem to be a problem that I am missing this three-dimensional vision. That changed in a flash at the age of 17 when I started to learn driving a car. Driving a car is not a problem, parking a car is for me the biggest challenge I have in everyday life. I passed the driving exam only thanks to the fact that nobody asked me park backwards or parallel. If that had been the case, I would not have had the driving licence for a long time.

But I still had the ambition to learn it. My first try ended without success. During the holidays in a tiny town I booked one driving lesson. When I explained the driving instructor what I would like to learn, he was not so enthusiastic. He arranged two posts and explained the principles to me. The distance between the posts was huge, I would have managed to park there with a tractor and there was not a line of cars either, so I could not practice the real situation. He did not solve my problem. For decades I experienced situations where I – soaked in sweat – managed to park the car into a line after 15 minutes curving to and fro. Or not!! Then I had to look for another parking spot under the sneering views of the onlookers.

Ten years ago I told a friend of mine, who had been driving a taxi for many years, of my inability and the promised to teach me. He was very sure of it because until then he had managed to teach everyone. We practiced and practiced but it did not become better and he gave up.

I was angry with myself and came to the conclusion that it cannot go on like this. I then analytically dealt with this question and solved it on a completely abstract level. Today I know how to park and I am not bad, despite my continuing misery with my visual-spatial abilities. Every now and then I still get sweaty hand and on certain days, when I did not sleep enough or I am tired, I prefer driving another turn around the block to find a larger parking spot. But my abilities in other areas managed to almost completely compensate this inability.

Today I do not mind mockery. Look for yourself how many people are missing this three dimensional vision when parking. And in case you are a fellow sufferer, let me know, I know a few good tricks!!

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