Cognitive effects of language on human navigation

Cognition. 2011 Aug;120(2):186-201. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.04.004. Epub 2011 Jun 12.

Abstract

Language has been linked to spatial representation and behavior in humans, but the nature of this effect is debated. Here, we test whether simple verbal expressions improve 4-year-old children's performance in a disoriented search task in a small rectangular room with a single red landmark wall. Disoriented children's landmark-guided search for a hidden object was dramatically enhanced when the experimenter used certain verbal expressions to designate the landmark during the hiding event. Both a spatial expression ("I'm hiding the sticker at the red/white wall") and a non-spatial but task-relevant expression ("The red/white wall can help you get the sticker") enhanced children's search, relative to uncued controls. By contrast, a verbal expression that drew attention to the landmark in a task-irrelevant manner ("Look at this pretty red/white wall") produced no such enhancement. These findings provide further evidence that language changes spatial behavior in children and illuminate one mechanism through which language exerts its effect: by helping children understand the relevance of landmarks for encoding locations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*
  • Speech / physiology*