The potentiation of geometry by features in human children: Evidence against modularity in the domain of navigation

J Exp Child Psychol. 2015 Dec:140:184-96. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.07.007. Epub 2015 Aug 5.


Accumulating evidence demonstrates that humans and other animals use geometric information, such as the shape of a surrounding space, to recover from disorientation. Less clear is to what extent human children integrate geometry with featural cues, such as the color of walls within an enclosed space, for this purpose. One view holds that reorientation relies on a cognitive module that processes geometric information independently of features. Here we provide evidence against this position by demonstrating that prior exposure to features within a kite-shaped space facilitated the use of geometry in 3- and 4-year-old children, as has been shown with nonhuman animals. Children were tasked with localizing a hidden object within a kite space following disorientation. Their performance was compared across two blocks of trials. We found that children first exposed to features (two black walls and two white walls) within the kite space (first block) were subsequently better at relying on the space's geometry to localize the target object (second block) than children not previously exposed to features. Follow-up experiments ruled out nonspecific effects of practice and attention. Not only did featural cues interact with the processing of geometry, but also features specifically enhanced children's representations of the space's geometry, which they used for reorientation. We suggest that this potentiation of geometry was possible because the placement of wall colors highlighted the major axis of the kite space, which may be critical for aiding the encoding of global shape or for maintaining the representation of a complex geometry in memory.

Keywords: Children; Location; Modularity; Navigation; Potentiation; Reorientation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes*
  • Orientation*
  • Space Perception*
  • Task Performance and Analysis