Young children’s automatic and alternating use of scene and object information in spatial symbols.

TitleYoung children’s automatic and alternating use of scene and object information in spatial symbols.
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsDillon, MR, Spelke, ES
Conference NameBudapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development

Although symbolic understanding has long been studied, little is known about the 2D shape information children use to relate symbols to their 3D referents. Our previous research suggests that young children rely on length and angle to find locations on objects, but on distance and direction to find locations in scenes. These studies, however, either presented drawings from non-canonical perspectives or probed children’s use of symbols in unusual environments. Moreover, these studies explored the factors that limit children’s understanding of spatial symbols, not the sources of their flexibility in this domain.

For the present study, we showed 144 4-year-old children three types of drawings of a typical room, depicting the room’s objects, its extended surfaces, or both. In one task, children used the drawings to find targets located either at the junction of two extended surfaces in a room or next to objects in the room. In another task, children judged whether drawings that include just scene or just object information are better depictions of targets at these two types of locations.

            We found that the limitations previously observed in children’s use of spatial symbols extend to highly realistic perspectival drawings: children perform better with scene drawings when targets are located at the junctions of extended surfaces in the room and better with object targets when targets are located near objects, but gain no additional benefit when presented with both types of information. In addition, children show no awareness of this pattern in their performance: they judge drawings of objects to be more informative of all target locations. Common drawings evidently present geometric information in a format automatically accessible to cognitive systems for navigation and object recognition. Young children nevertheless fail to integrate the information that these systems represent, even when shown drawings of the most familiar and natural kinds.

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