The Role of Geometry & Landmarks in Spatial Reorientation
As found in many animal species, young infants and children have a powerful sensitivity to the geometric properties of enclosing spaces. To investigate how children use geometry when they are disoriented, children are brought into an unmarked rectangular room (see diagram) to observe as an experimenter hides an object in one of four boxes located in the room’s corners. Children are then disorientated by the experimenter- (i.e. lifting them and spinning five times in the center of the enclosure, while the child closes his/her eyes). After disorientation children are encouraged to search for the hidden toy.
In this series of studies, we found that in an unmarked rectangular space, children divided their searches equally between the geometrically-identical corners (A-D and B-C), but avoided the two corners in which the relation of the long wall and the short wall is different from that of the correct corner (A-B and C-D). This kind of search pattern shows clearly that there has been coding of the geometric features of the environment. Although there is evidence that young children have this geometric sensitivity, it is not clear whether they can make use of additional featural information in searching for a hidden object. That is, it is not clear whether children can make use of environmental landmarks to search for a hidden object. For example, children may not be able to use a landmark such as a colored wall or toy to locate the hidden object. There are inconsistent findings with regard to whether very young children can consistently use landmarks to distinguish the correct corner from the diagonally opposite corner in a rectangular room. Previous research from our lab has indicated that children as young as 18 months could use featural information to choose between geometrically identical corners of a rectangular room. However, other research with 3-5-year olds using a very small room found that they do not use a colored wall to help determine the correct corner to search in the room.
The discrepancy of the findings about whether featural information is used accurately may have to do with environmental conditions. Using 3-year-olds and 5-year olds, current research is aimed at examining what factors influence children’s ability to integrate geometric information and featural information. It is possible that factors such as the size of the room, the size of the landmark, the position of the landmark, the stability of the landmark (i.e., whether it can move), and /or the role of action in the space, influences children’s ability to use featural information when searching. It is these potential factors that we are currently investigating in our lab.
PAPER: Newcombe, N.S., Ratliff, K.R., Shallcross, W.L. & Twyman, A.D. (2010). Young children’s use of features to reorient is more than just associative: Further evidence against a modular view of spatial processing. Developmental Science, 13, 213-220.
PAPER: Twyman, A.D. & Newcombe, N.S. (2010). Five reasons to doubt the existence of a geometric module. Cognitive Science, 34, 1315-1356.
PAPER Twyman, A., Friedman, A. & Spetch, M. L. (2007). Penetrating the Geometric Module: Catalyzing children’s use of landmarks. Developmental Psychology.
PAPER: Twyman, A. D. & Newcombe, N. S. (2009). Of mice (Mus musculus) and toddlers (Homo sapiens): Evidence for species-general spatial reorientation. Journal of Comparative Psychology.
PRESENTATION: Newcombe & Spelke. Starting Points and Change in Spatial Development: Contrasting Perspectives. Society for Research on Child Development Talk, April 2013.
PAPER: Twyman, A. D., Newcombe, N.S. & Gould, T.G. (2013). Malleability in the development of spatial reorientation. Developmental Psychobiology, 55, 243-255. DOI: 10.1002/dev.21017