: A model of the acquisition of expertise in spatial thinking involves at least four components:
1. Domain-specific long-term memory of patterns: in order to learn to identify patterns in a knowledge domain more rapidly and accurately, one needs to study those particular shapes. There is little or no benefit from studying one set of shapes in perceiving another set of shapes.
2. However, perceptual learning of patterns goes hand in hand with the meta-cognitive knowledge that (a) patterns can be multiply classified and (b) studying patterns and practicing pattern identification makes those patterns come faster and more readily to mind when they are relevant to a task.
3. Domain-specific mental transformations of patterns in working memory: in order to learn to imagine how molecular structures will appear when rotated or expanded, one needs to practice mentally transforming those structures and highly similar ones. In order to learn to imagine the cross sections resulting from folds and structural events theorized within plate tectonics, one needs to practice those mental transformations for those types of patterns.
4. However, practice in mental transformation goes hand in hand with the meta-cognitive knowledge that such practice (a) pays off and (b) makes it easier to think and reason within that domain.