When we are born, we think solely in images; our brain takes in what our physical eyes see.
As time passes, we hear words associated with these images: remember baby going from “ga ga,
goo goo” to associating sounds with people and things around them with that first “ma ma” or
As baby grows she may be part of the 20% continue to recognize ideas by an image (picture
thinker) she senses for it. Another 20% do not see the image, instead they hear the word (word
thinker) – like a radio and maybe what the word looks like. Most of us are in the remaining 60%
(20 + 20 + 60 = 100) the population. Thus we sense with both TV/image, and Radio/sound. Are
able to imagine ideas? Try this: Picture an elephant; do you see an animal or the word? Many of
us, of the 60%, see both word and picture. Yet some ‘picture thinkers’ sense an image, ‘word
thinkers’ hear the word or see the letters that make that word.
Those of us for whom dominant picture thinking is natural, while bright eager curious persons,
will have problems in learning and life. Why? Most classrooms rely on word-based teaching and
learning; in this setting the 20% who naturally think in pictures can experience trouble. How?
Let’s see what happens when we think of some ‘easy’ words: Picture a ‘lion’; you may see a real
one or another image like a cartoon one. (I always see the Lion King). Now picture a ‘how’ – do
you see an image or the word? Try ‘who’; do you see a picture for this idea or the word? When a
word does not prompt a picture that represents what it means, then the thinker that must see a
picture when hearing a word to understand what that word represents, sees nothing…she ‘draws a
Picture thinkers trying to figure out what picture goes with words like ‘the’, ‘that’, ‘of’, ‘how’,
‘who’, who know they are as smart as their classmates, feel frustrated or confused that everyone
else can read and write so easily, while they can’t and they don’t know why. This picture thinking
ability can be at the root of dis-abilities like reading, writing, comprehension, ADD – for children
in school or grownups in the adult world. Picture thinkers succeed in classes and career fields
that rely on their gifts like art, drama, music, discussion-based debate, hands-on science, project
based courses, because of their way of thinking, not in spite of it.
Are you a word- or picture-thinker or are you in the majority for whom both come naturally?
Next time you or someone you know don’t seem to ‘get the picture’ consider the possibility that
they are picture or nonverbal thinker, navigating a word or verbal thinkers world.
Tom West’s book "Seeing What Others Cannot See" Linda Kreger Silverman’s book, "Upside Down Brilliance
– The Visual Spatial Learner", and Ron Davis’ book, "The Gift of Dyslexia" all share this idea and
suggest ways picture thinking is natural and how to use this gift in a world that seems geared to
word thinkers 100% of the time.
Try this scenario – Youngster and mom have different pictures for a word…
A three year old put his shoes on by himself. His mother noticed the left was on the right foot.
She said, “Son, your shoes are on the wrong feet.” He looked up at her with a raised brow and
said, “Don’t kid me, Mom. I know they’re my feet.”