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date: 19 April 2018

Spatial Development

Summary and Keywords

Spatial ability is manifest across different psychological domains, including perception, action, and cognition. The development of spatial understanding originates in the perception-action skills of infants. When infants act on the world, either during object manipulation or locomotion, one may begin to glean the foundations of older children’s and adults’ efforts to think, reason, and solve problems more symbolically and abstractly. Even during infancy, different actions, such as reaching and locomotion, may incur different spatial demands, requiring infants to use spatial information flexibly. In the preschool years and beyond, as symbolic skills become more developed, children’s spatial abilities become more abstract, which are reflected in their abilities to think about the layout of environments and to use maps to learn about environments. Besides differences in spatial ability as a function of developmental level, individual differences in spatial ability have also been documented as a function of gender, daily experience, and blindness. Collectively, research on individual differences in spatial development suggests that training procedures can reduce differences in spatial skill that may arise in different individuals. Finally, to understand spatial development more fully, research is needed on the neural bases of spatial development, cross-cultural differences in spatial development, and the impact of technology on spatial behavior.

Keywords: spatial development, spatial orientation, space perception, cognitive maps, sex differences, spatial training, reaching, navigation, maps

Introduction

The development of spatial understanding has been a topic of enduring interest across many disciplines, including education, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. Spatial competence is foundational to the adaptive ways in which both children and adults perceive, act, think, learn, and navigate in and around the world. Activities that encourage spatial thinking are increasingly being viewed as crucial buildings blocks of scientific and mathematical literacy. Object play and assembly skills among preschoolers, for instance, have been shown to predict later math ability (Verdine, Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek, & Newcombe, 2016). At the same time, spatial ability encompasses a wide variety of competencies. Indeed, one might ask, “What is this thing called spatial ability?”

This question can be addressed by considering the development of spatial ability across three core domains: perception, action, and cognition. Doing so highlights two general themes. First, the development of spatial understanding is often rooted in perception-action skills. In an infant’s early attempts to stack blocks, one may see the foundations of an architect’s ability to imagine complex three-dimensional structures that layer, curve, twist, and turn. A developmental framework can illuminate from where more abstract spatial skills originate.

Second, different action systems, such as reaching and locomotion, may incur different spatial demands. These different spatial demands, in turn, may lead to different ways in which spatial information is encoded. Understanding spatial development thus requires considering what types of spatial demands arise in different action systems and how children begin to tune their behaviors to these different spatial demands.

Space Perception

Space Perception: Vision

Are humans born with the ability to perceive space? This question has been the subject of a long-standing debate and was one of the core issues that defined the nature–nurture controversy.

During the 17th century, philosophers engaged in vigorous discussion about the origins of basic forms of knowledge, including our ability to perceive space. With regard to the perception of depth, the problem was framed as follows: if light information is projected onto the two-dimensional surface of the retina, how do we become able to use this information to perceive objects and surfaces in three dimensions? Philosophers on the European continent, such as Descartes and Kant, argued that the ability to perceive depth was innate and did not need to be learned. Their view was that infants automatically interpreted the two-dimensional light information that was cast on the retina as specifying three-dimensional depth. British empiricists, such as Bishop Berkeley and John Locke, however, maintained that we come into the world as blank slates. On this view, infants learn to perceive depth through experience. Infants, for instance, might learn to associate visual cues for depth based on their success in reaching to objects or surfaces in the world.

Even though these arguments were advanced more than 300 years ago, it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that psychologists began systematically to test human infants to examine the origins of space perception. Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard Walk (1960) developed the famous visual-cliff apparatus to examine whether human infants and other young terrestrial animals would avoid locomoting over the edge of an apparent cliff. In reality, the “deep side” of the visual cliff was covered with an elevated transparent platform so that the ground surface appeared to be considerably below it (see Figure 1). Questions about whether human infants have the ability to perceive depth, however, soon gave way to a more differentiated formulation of the problem. Investigators asked the questions, when do infants begin to show sensitivity to different types of depth cues and, in some cases, what are the neural mechanisms that underlie the development of such sensitivity? These new kinds of questions underscored the realization that depth perception does not constitute a unitary ability but is tied to sensitivity to different types of information, each of which may emerge at different points during development.

Spatial DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 1. The Visual Cliff Apparatus. A child avoids crossing over the “deep” side even though the mother calls to the child.

Courtesy of Professor Joseph J Campos, University of California, Berkeley.

According to Yonas and Granrud (1985), the development of depth perception during the infancy period can be considered with respect to three types of depth cues: kinetic, binocular, and pictorial. Kinetic cues refer to depth information carried by motion or dynamic cues that occur over time (e.g., an approaching stimulus that expands rapidly in the visual field). Binocular depth cues refer to depth information based on the different views each eye receives due to the relative positioning of the two eyes and thus the degree of disparity in the light cast on corresponding points of the retina of each eye. Pictorial or monocular depth cues refer to depth information from nonkinetic or static information that can be registered from one eye alone. These latter types of cues are referred to as pictorial cues because individuals can use this type of information to register (apparent) depth from two-dimensional surfaces, such as pictures.

Yonas and Granrud (1985) proposed that sensitivity to depth information develops in the following order: infants first begin to register depth information from kinetic cues by 1 month of age, if not before (Yonas, Pettersen, Lockman, & Eisenberg, 1980); from binocular cues beginning between 3 and 5 months (Aslin, 1977); and from pictorial cues, between roughly 5 and 7 months (e.g., see Yonas, Cleaves, & Pettersen, 1978). These findings support the idea that depth perception is served by multiple and somewhat distinct systems (Yonas & Granrud, 1985). Evidence for these proposals is considered in the sections “Kinetic Information for Depth,” “Binocular Information for Depth,” and “Sensitivity to Pictorial Cues.”

Kinetic Information for Depth

Research indicates that sensitivity to kinetic information for depth is present by 1 month of age. As Yonas and Granrud (1985) suggested, the findings that sensitivity to kinetic information for depth comes “online” first and is present so early are surprising. It had often been assumed that processing kinetic information involved more sophisticated perceptual or cognitive abilities that required individuals to integrate complex and changing information over time—something that was thought to be beyond the capacities of very young infants. Yet early sensitivity to kinetic information for depth can be understood by considering the kind of visual information that organisms normally experience. J. J. Gibson (1966) noted that the type of visual information that is typically projected to the eye is kinetic and continually changing. Gibson further suggested that the structure of this changing light information over time, what he termed “optic flow,” can specify important properties about the layout of the surrounding environment and the relation between the self and the surrounding environment. In the case of kinetic information for depth, optic-flow information can specify, for instance, that an object or surface is approaching based on its rapid symmetrical expansion across the retina, filling the field of view.

Research indicates that by 1 month of age, infants can detect that this kind of an optical transformation specifies an approaching stimulus. They will blink in response to such a stimulus but not in response to a visual stimulus that undergoes the reverse transformation, as if it were moving away from them (Nanez & Yonas, 1994). Moreover, by 3 months of age, infants distinguish between types of optic flow that specify collision versus just an approaching stimulus. Three-month-old infants reliably withdraw their heads from an optical display that undergoes a transformation in which it accelerates geometrically and fills their visual field, but they show less head withdrawal in response to an optical display that either fills their visual field slowly or fills only a small portion of it (Yonas et al., 1980). These findings suggest that by 3 months of age, infants do not simply withdraw their heads from any display that appears to approach them but have begun to finely differentiate the types of optical transformations that specify imminent collision.

Binocular Information for Depth

Sensitivity to binocular information for depth first begins to appear between 3 and 5 months of age. During this period, infants become able to fuse the different views that each eye receives of a visual scene to obtain a single percept in depth (Fox, Aslin, Shea, & Dumais, 1980). This phenomenon is known as stereopsis, and it is based on the depth cue of binocular disparity. Closer stimuli produce more disparate views to each eye (greater binocular disparity) than do more distant ones. Individuals can use this cue to help perceive how near or far a stimulus is from them. At a neural level, work conducted on the visual system of cats suggests that stereopsis is linked to the functioning of cells in the visual cortex of the brain that are tuned to particular values of disparity (Bishop & Pettigrew, 1986).

Once stereopsis appears in infants, at around 4 months, this ability improves rapidly in the following weeks (Held, Birch, & Gwiazda, 1980). Nevertheless, work also suggests that exposure to typical binocular information early in life is needed to drive the development of binocular vision. Children who are deprived of normal binocular experience in the first few years of life due to a misalignment of the eyes never fully acquire the ability to register depth binocularly, even after their eyes are aligned through surgery in later childhood or adulthood (Banks, Aslin, & Letson, 1975). One implication of this work is that normal binocular experience is needed during early development to facilitate the tuning of the disparity-sensitive cells of the visual cortex (Aslin, 1981).

Sensitivity to Pictorial Cues

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Figure 2. Under Monocular Conditions, Infants Will Reach to (A) The Apparently Closer (Larger) Side of the Trapezoidal Window, But Equally Often to (B) The Larger and Smaller Sides of the Control Display. Abbreviations: L, large side; M, middle area; and S, small side. From “Development of sensitivity to pictorial depth,” by A. Yonas, W. T. Cleaves, & L. Pettersen, Science, 200, p. 77.

Copyright 1978 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Adapted with permission.

Sensitivity to pictorial cues is the last type of depth perception that emerges in the infancy period. When infants look at pictures in books, it is assumed that they can register the apparent depth information in the two-dimensional pictures (e.g., Ernie is in front of Big Bird), but when do infants become able to process pictures in this manner? Research suggests that infants begin to show sensitivity to depth information from pictorial cues between 5 and 7 months of age (Yonas & Granrud, 1985). For example, investigators have presented infants with flat two-dimensional displays (see Figure 2) that contain a multitude of pictorial depth cues (e.g., linear perspective, foreshortening, shading; Yonas et al., 1978). Results from these studies reveal that 7-month-old infants will reach to the apparently closer side of the two-dimensional display when viewing the display monocularly, but not binocularly. (Viewing the display binocularly would reduce the apparent perception of depth from the flat display.) In contrast, 5-month-old infants do not show this differential pattern of responding, suggesting that they do not register the apparent depth in the display under monocular viewing conditions (Yonas et al., 1978). In other research, investigators have looked at the emergence of sensitivity to pictorial-depth cues individually or in isolation from one another. This work also generally indicates that such sensitivity develops sometime between 5 and 7 months of age (Yonas & Granrud, 1985).

Visual Sensitivity to Radial Direction

Beyond questions about the origins of depth perception, one may ask whether infants come into the world already prepared to perceive space radially—that is, in terms of the direction of a stimulus, independent of depth, relative to a central visual fixation point. One way to test this ability is to study young infants’ saccadic eye movements to targets that are presented at different radial positions (e.g., 10° or 20° off to one side) from a central fixation point. Saccadic eye movements refer to the rapid ballistic movements of the eye that individuals make to shift the point of fixation. Individuals typically make saccades to bring a stimulus that initially appears in the peripheral visual field (i.e., the peripheral retina) to the central portion of the visual field (the central part of the retina or fovea), where visual resolution is greatest. Although the fovea is relatively undeveloped before the first two to three months after birth, Aslin and Salapatek (1975) studied whether young infants could make directionally appropriate saccades to a visual target that appeared suddenly in their periphery. Even 1-month-old infants made directionally appropriate saccades to such targets, though the initial magnitude of these saccades was less than those made by adults. These findings suggest that infants come into the world already able to register information about radial direction of a visual stimulus.

Nevertheless, some form of developmental plasticity must be built into the system that relates saccadic eye movements to visual information for radial direction. The physical and anatomical growth of the eye and head mean that the relation between the location of a given photoreceptor on the retina and the position it corresponds to in space changes during development (Aslin, 1987). Additionally, during the first few months after birth, photoreceptors from the peripheral retina migrate to the center of the retina and help to define the emerging foveal area. If the stimulation of a photoreceptor soon after birth specifies a particular region in space, some type of recalibration process will be needed to adjust for growth-related changes (see also Banks & Bennett, 1988). Collectively, these considerations suggest that the capacity for recalibration based on sensorimotor experience may be an integral property of the developing oculomotor system.

Space Perception: Audition

Questions about the origins of space perception can also be addressed through research on audition. In this work, researchers have focused on the ability of infants to localize auditory targets in space by turning their heads or by reaching.

Auditory Localization and Head Turning: Direction

The direction of an auditory source can be localized within the horizontal plane (azimuth) based on binaural differences in the time of arrival and intensity of the sound reaching each ear. When considering work on the development of auditory localization and other forms of auditory space perception in infants, however, significant methodological and interpretative challenges arise. Because researchers typically assess auditory perception in infants by using motor responses that are distinct from the auditory ability in question (e.g., turning the head in the direction of a sound), it is often difficult to know whether developmental changes in perceptual or in motor capacities, or both, are being studied. Additionally, with some auditory localization measures, such as turning the head in the direction of a sound, intermodal capacities may influence the response as well. That is, infants may also be turning their heads to look in the direction of a stimulus. Researchers of auditory localization have recognized these challenges but note that it is difficult to fully control for them experimentally (see Ashmead, Clifton, & Perris, 1987).

Keeping these challenges in mind, researchers have asked whether the ability to localize the direction of a sound source within the horizontal plane is present soon after birth. Research indicates that the emergence of auditory localization through the first 3 months after birth follows a surprising U-shaped developmental trajectory: Newborns turn their heads (Clifton, Morrongiello, Kulig, & Dowd, 1981a; Muir & Field, 1979) and move their eyes (Turner & Macfarlane, 1978) in the direction of a sound source (Muir, Clifton, & Clarkson, 1989; see Figure 3). These behaviors, however, largely disappear during the second and third months. During this period, infants will either not turn their heads or will sometimes make a small turn, but in the direction opposite to the sound source (Muir, Abraham, Forbes, & Harris, 1979). In the fourth month, auditory localization returns, but head orienting appears to be organized differently. In response to a sound presented on one side, infants will now turn their heads relatively quickly to the sound source and appear to search for it visually (Muir & Clifton, 1985).

Spatial DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 3. Average Percent of Total Trials on Which Infants Turn Toward the Single Source (SS) and Precedence Effect (PE) Stimuli. Data are plotted as a function of age. From “The development of a human auditory localization response: A u-shaped function,” by D. W. Muir, R. K. Clifton, & M. G. Clarkson, Canadian Journal of Psychology, 43, 209.

Copyright 1989 by the Canadian Psychological Association. Adapted with permission.

Clues to why infants display this U-shaped developmental pattern when localizing auditory stimuli can be found in the research on a related auditory phenomenon known as the precedence effect. In the precedence effect, two identical sounds are delivered to two locations, typically on each side of the individual, with one sound arriving before the other by several milliseconds. Individuals who show the precedence effect perceive the location of the sound as coming from the leading sound source. This ability is considered adaptive, because it enables individuals to suppress the very rapid echoes that occur as that initial sound bounces off other surfaces in a reverberant environment. Clifton, Morrongiello, Kulig, and Dowd (1981b) report that 5-month-old infants show the precedence effect and turn their heads in the direction of the leading sound source but that newborn infants do not. Based on these and the previous findings on auditory localization indicating that newborn infants can localize single source sounds, Clifton et al. (1981b) and Muir and Clifton (1985) have suggested that the neural mechanisms that underlie auditory localization may undergo changes in the first few months. Although the ability to localize sound in the newborn period may be subcortically based, the ability to do so by 4 or 5 months of age may be controlled at a cortical level.

Auditory Localization and Head Turning: Accuracy

In most of the findings on auditory localization discussed here, infants’ abilities to make a directionally appropriate response were assessed, but accuracy beyond correct localization was not. Other research on auditory localization suggests that accuracy in localizing the direction of a sound source improves in the first year, as does sensitivity to such cues as interaural time differences, which can specify auditory direction (Ashmead, Davis, Whalen, & Odom, 1991). Muir and Clifton (1985), summarizing work by Muir and Forbes, report that newborn infants show greater head rotation to a sound source that is located 90° off midline than to one located 45° off midline. By 4.5 months of age, infants show striking increases in accuracy. They orient their heads almost exactly to sounds located 30° off midline and to less than 12° to sounds located 60° off midline. Nevertheless, when interpreting head turning as a measure of auditory localization, it is important to recognize that infants like adults may not always be motivated to turn their heads to the exact location of an auditory target (Ashmead et al., 1987).

Auditory Localization and Reaching

Localization of an auditory target can be accomplished through other action systems besides turning the head or moving the eyes. Investigators have also used reaching to examine whether infants are sensitive to the radial direction of a sound-emitting stimulus. To study whether infants reach in the direction of an auditory target, Perris and Clifton (1988) placed 7-month-old infants in the dark and presented a sounding object that was positioned at different points within a 120° radius of the infants. Infants showed evidence of auditory-manual coordination for radial direction. They accurately reached in the direction of the object and often grasped it.

Auditory Space Perception: Depth

Beyond the ability to localize the direction of a sound in the horizontal plane, infants also show sensitivity to auditory information for depth or distance. To study this capacity, researchers have adapted the visual looming paradigm to investigate whether infants use changing auditory information to detect whether a stimulus is approaching them or not. Freiberg, Tually, and Crassini (2001) found that 4- to 6-month-old infants who were seated in the dark reliably leaned back and withdrew their bodies when an auditory stimulus rapidly (but not slowly) increased in intensity, as if an approaching sounding object were about to collide with them.

In other work, investigators have placed infants in the dark and used reaching to sounding objects to index auditory depth perception. Infants between 6 and 7 months distinguished between sounding objects that were within reach versus out of reach, reaching more often to the sounding object in the former case (Clifton, Perris, & Bullinger, 1991; Litovsky & Clifton, 1992). Interestingly, there is no delay in the development of reaching by infants to visual versus auditory targets (Clifton, Muir, Ashmead, & Clarkson, 1993).

Auditory Space Perception and the Role of Experience

Collectively, the studies on auditory localization suggest that in the first half-year, infants improve in the ability to perceive radial direction from sound. The reasons for this improvement are likely due to the joint interplay of maturational and experiential factors. Ashmead et al. (1991) have pointed out that there must be some plasticity built into the development of the systems involved in processing the auditory temporal and intensity disparity cues associated with space perception. The natural physical growth of the head changes the distance between the ears. As a consequence, the precise meaning of binaural cues associated with auditory space perception may change with, age and infants must be able to adapt to these changes.

More direct examination of the role of experience in the development of auditory space perception can be accomplished by investigating early exposure to atypical binaural experience. Wilmington, Gray, and Jahrsdorfer (1994) studied the auditory localization abilities of individuals who had received early abnormal binaural experience due to a malformation of one of the outer ears (congenital unilateral atresia) but subsequently received corrective surgery later in childhood or adulthood. Even after 24 weeks postsurgery, these individuals showed poor sound-localization abilities, despite evidencing normal interaural time-discrimination thresholds, an important cue for sound localization. The results suggest that typical binaural experience is needed early in childhood for an auditory map of space to develop. Typical auditory experience appears to help drive the development of the relevant brain and central nervous system structures associated with auditory localization.

Manual Action and Spatial Development

It seems clear that spatial ability is not a unitary construct but needs to be considered with respect to component abilities that function within a given perception-action system. As new motor abilities, such as reaching and locomotion, come online during the first year, new spatial challenges arise for infants. Infants must coordinate their emerging action capabilities with information they perceive about space in order to behave adaptively in the world (Gibson & Schmuckler, 1989).

Visual-Manual Sensitivity to Spatial Features of Objects

In the case of manual behavior, individuals need to coordinate perceptual information about objects’ spatial features with the actions they perform on these objects. Even subsequent to this, individuals need to perceive objects as entities that are bounded and separable from their surroundings (von Hofsten & Spelke, 1985). For instance, to grasp an object effectively, individuals must not only perceive it as a bounded entity in order to reach to its location in space but also adjust their hands in relation to the object’s other spatial features (e.g., orientation, size, shape). When reaching, adults routinely make all of these adjustments rapidly and smoothly, before they contact the object. During early development, however, coordination between perception and manual action develops gradually during the first year. By 5 months of age, infants are able to perceive objects as separate from their surroundings (von Hofsten & Spelke, 1985). Infants develop the ability to use perceptual information to bring their hands to the location of an object, however, before they develop the ability to adjust their hands in relation to the other spatial features of an object (Lockman & Ashmead, 1983).

Visual-Manual Sensitivity for Location: Direction and Distance

Location can be broken down into two components: direction and distance. When reaching to a visually perceived target, individuals need to control where they aim their arm (direction) as well as how far they extend their arm (distance). Adults reach to visually perceived targets effortlessly. Reaching in infants develops gradually, however, with most infants becoming able to reach to a visually perceived target by 4 or 5 months. Why does it take several months for infants to become able to reach to visually perceived objects? Discussion of this question has occurred with reference to the nature–nurture controversy and, in particular, the question of whether infants come into the world with visual and manual space already linked.

For many years, based on the great Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget’s (1952, 1954) observations of his own children, the prevailing view among researchers was that it required months of experience for infants to coordinate eye and hand in order to reach to a visually perceived target, which typically occurs between 4 and 5 months. Subsequent experimental work seemed to support this experiential account. When young infants were provided with object-rich environments that promoted opportunities for eye–hand coordination, reaching development accelerated dramatically by about a month (White, Castle, & Held, 1964).

Nevertheless, when the more basic movement of extending the hand in the direction of an object is considered, newborn infants show some degree of coordination between eye and hand. Von Hofsten (1982) found that when 4- to 10-day-old infants fixated a slowly moving object, they often extended their arms in the general direction of the object. They rarely, however, contacted the object. Collectively, these results suggest that newborn infants may be able to relate visual and manual space more easily for direction than for distance. Newborn infants’ failure to contact the object may reflect a perceptual limitation (i.e., poor depth perception), a motor limitation (i.e., poor control of the arms), or a limitation associated with coordinating action and perception. With regard to the latter possibility, infants may need visual-manual experience to fine-tune whatever form of eye–hand coordination they initially possess.

When do young infants begin to coordinate arm and hand movements with visual information for distance? To address this question, researchers have examined the frequency and extent of infants’ arm extensions to targets presented within and out of reach. With respect to frequency, Field (1976, 1977) reported that 2-month-old infants made fewer reaching movements to objects that were placed considerably beyond their reach (even when retinal size was controlled as a function of distance); 5-month-old infants showed even finer sensitivity and made fewer reaching movements to objects that were just beyond reach. With respect to extent, infants reach to and contact objects by 4 or 5 months of age (White et al., 1964). Such contacts increase by 6 months (Field, 1976). Moreover, between 4 and 5 months, infants begin to exhibit the ability to anticipate and catch an object that moves laterally across their field of view (von Hofsten & Lindhagen, 1979; see Figure 4). Taken together, these findings suggest that between 4 and 5 months, infants become able to adjust the extent of their arm movements when reaching for an object in both its current and anticipated locations.

Spatial DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 4. Illustration of the Experimental Setup Used by von Hofsten and Lindhagen (1979) to Test for the Ability of Infants to Catch a Moving Object. From “Observations on the development of reaching for moving objects,” by C. von Hofsten & K. Lindhagen, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 28, 161.

Copyright 1979 by the Academic Press, Inc. Adapted with permission.

The reasons for the improvements in reaching to the location of a target during the first few months are less certain, however. As was the case with visual-motor coordination for direction, improvement in visual-motor coordination for distance information may stem from advances in perceptual abilities or motor abilities, or both, as well as the mapping between the two. Additionally, it is important to recognize that because of physical growth, the relation between the eye and the hand and hence between what is in and out of reach will change with development. These considerations suggest that throughout development, there must exist a recalibration mechanism by which children continuously update the relation between visual and manual space based on their own perceptuomotor experience.

Visual-Manual Sensitivity for Other Spatial Features: Orientation, Size, and Shape

When individuals reach to an object, they try not only to contact the object but to grasp it appropriately for immediate use. Doing so involves what is known as prospective control. Individuals typically rely on visual information about an object’s spatial features to adjust their hands in relation to these features even before they contact the object. In infants, this ability develops gradually for different spatial features over the course of the first year. Although infants can extend their arms in the radial direction of an object soon after birth, infants only begin to show prospective manual adjustments during reaching for other spatial features of objects (size, orientation, shape) during the second half-year.

With respect to the spatial feature of object size, studies indicate that infants begin adjust their reaching strategies (unimanual vs. bimanual reach, hand-opening width) by the middle or latter part of the second half-year (Berthier & Carrico, 2010; Corbetta, Thelen, & Johnson, 2000; Fagard & Jacquet, 1996; von Hofsten & Ronnqvist, 1988). Similarly, with respect to the spatial feature of object orientation, some studies have suggested that infants while reaching begin to pre-align the orientation of their hands with that of a horizontal or vertical rod by the middle of the second half-year (Lockman, Ashmead, & Bushnell, 1984; McCarty, Clifton, & Collard, 1999; Witherington, 2005); whereas some other work has suggested that this ability may already be present in infants by 5 months of age (von Hofsten & Fazel-Zandy, 1984). It should be noted, however, that research on infant visuo-manual sensitivity to the spatial feature of orientation has focused almost exclusively on stimuli oriented horizontally or vertically. Little is known about the early development of visuo-manual sensitivity to other orientations, such as those in the diagonal plane.

Of course, many objects do not vary along just one spatial dimension. Many may vary simultaneously across multiple dimensions, such as size and orientation. When features co-vary in this manner, 12-month-old infants but not 10-month-old infants anticipate information for size and orientation during the approach phase of the reach, showing appropriate manual adjustments for both object features (Schum, Jovanovic, & Schwarzer, 2011). These findings suggest that infants may encounter difficulties in coordinating vision and manual action if their planning must take into account an object’s multiple spatial features.

With regard to object shape, studies indicate that infants while reaching adjust their grasp patterns to some aspects of shape during the second half-year but not to other aspects of shape until the end of the first year or even later (Barrett & Needham, 2008; Smith, Street, Jones, & James, 2014). Shape, however, encompasses a number of object features, including size and orientation, so it is difficult to isolate sensitivity to shape from sensitivity to these and other features. Nevertheless, one way that researchers have studied whether infants make prospective manual adjustments to shape information while reaching is to present infants with symmetrical or asymmetrical objects. By 11 months, infants plan grasp strategies that are based on the symmetry of the object, and they are more likely to show greater separation of the hands when grasping asymmetrical objects than when grasping symmetrical objects (Barrett & Needham, 2008). By 18 months, children show sensitivity to an object’s longest axis, and will often hold an object when viewing it so that the object is parallel or perpendicular to the line of sight (Pereira, James, Jones, & Smith, 2010).

Collectively, the findings on infant visual–manual sensitivity to size, orientation, and shape raise an important developmental issue regarding the reason(s) for improvements in these skills in the second half-year and beyond. Improved visual–manual sensitivity may be due to advances in perceptual, motor and/or perceptual-motor coordination. Which of these possibilities best accounts for gains in visual-manual sensitivity? It is known that infants in the first few months are already capable of discriminating visual stimuli that differ along the dimensions of size, orientation, or shape (for a review, see Johnson & Hannon, 2015). Given this early perceptual competence, it is unlikely, then, that perceptual factors alone are responsible for later-developing visual–manual sensitivity to these features. Another possibility is that advances in motor skill underlie advances in visual-manual sensitivity. It is the case that infants begin to evidence greater control over their hands and fingers during the early part of the second half-year (see Bushnell & Boudreau, 1993; Lockman & Ashmead, 1983). Yet even younger infants are motorically capable of performing some of the manual adjustments that would be appropriate for the orientation, size, or shape of an object. For example, Lockman et al. (1984) reported that 5-month-old infants displayed the full range of hand orientations during the approach phase of the reach but did not systematically relate these rotations to the visually perceived orientation of the object. In short, even though infants may possess the relevant perceptual and motor skills, they may still need active experience to coordinate these skills in order to reach for objects adaptively.

Relating Objects Together

Fitting Objects Into Openings

Besides the development of visual–manual sensitivity to the spatial features of individual objects, researchers have looked at how young children combine objects spatially. By 2 years of age, children have begun to play with puzzles, put objects into openings, and combine objects when feeding themselves (Gesell, Amatruda, & Thompson, 1934). Less obvious, however, are the spatial skills that underlie these developmental milestones. One ability that contributes to children’s mastery of these tasks is spatial planning. In this context, spatial planning refers to the ability to anticipate, coordinate, and execute the spatial transformations that enable individuals to relate objects to other objects, surfaces, or openings.

One of the ways researchers of spatial cognition have studied spatial planning involving manual behaviors is by using shape-sorting tasks. These tasks often resemble the shape-sorting toys that young children play with at home or in a childcare setting. To fit an object into an opening, young children need to learn to relate the geometric properties of a three-dimensional object that they are acting on to the geometric properties of a two-dimensional space in which they are placing the object (Bertamini & Croucher, 2003). Recent research shows that young children align their empty hand with an opening before they align a handheld object with a similar opening (McKenzie, Slater, Tremellen, & McAlphin, 1993; Street, James, Jones, & Smith, 2011). For instance, Street et al. (2011) found that at 18 months age, children easily align their hand to an opening, but still fail to align a handheld object to an opening (see Figure 5). Children at 24 months of age, however, are capable of accurately aligning a handheld object to an opening. The Street et al. findings demonstrate that although 18-month-old children are capable of executing the actions necessary to insert their hand or a handheld object into an opening, they fail to take into account the geometric properties of a handheld object when planning their actions.

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Figure 5. The Experimental Set-Up Showing a Child Fitting (A) A Disk Into a Slot and (B) His Hand Into a Slot. From “Vision for action in toddlers: The posting task,” by S.Y. Street et al., 2011, Child Development, 82, 2086.

Copyright 2011 by the Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. Adapted with permission.

Although 18-month-old children’s failure to align a handheld object to an opening has been documented across multiple studies, less attention has been focused on the spatial transformations that 24-month-old children perform to complete this type of task. To succeed on this task, children must accomplish two types of spatial transformations. They must sequentially or simultaneously (a) move or translate the object to the opening and (b) rotate the object to align it with the opening (Jung, Kahrs, & Lockman, 2015). The transition from a sequential two-step approach to a simultaneous integrated approach is crucial for performing the fitting task efficiently. Jung et al. found that 17-month-old children typically use an inefficient sequential approach to complete the fitting task, whereas 24-month-old children use an efficient simultaneous approach. These findings further support the conclusion that before their second birthday, children are quite capable of performing the actions necessary to align an object but fail to account for the geometric properties of a handheld object by integrating translations and rotations during object fitting.

An additional question regarding object fitting is how children act on objects that are more geometrically complex than simple disks or cylinders, the stimuli used in the Street et al. (2011) and Jung et al. (2015) studies. Relative to cylinders or disks, more complex objects may have larger numbers of sides and corners. Children must perform additional spatial transformations when placing such objects into openings. Complex objects require individuals not only to translate and rotate the objects but also to orient specific features of the objects in relation to openings (Fragaszy, Kuroshima, & Stone, 2015; Örnkloo & von Hofsten, 2007; Örnkloo & von Hofsten, 2009; Shutts, Örnkloo, von Hofsten, Keen, & Spelke, 2009). For instance, a simple cylinder requires moving the cylinder in line with the opening and rotating its axis of elongation to be parallel with the depth of the opening, but a rectangular block additionally requires pre-orienting the square cross-section to one of four positions that align with the shape of the opening. Örnkloo and von Hofsten (2007) found a strong relation between the complexity of an object being fit into an opening and the age at which children pre-orient the object correctly. Children younger than 18 months of age made no attempt to pre-orient the complex objects to the opening, whereas children between 18 and 22 months of age were able to pre-orient complex objects, such as cross-sections of equilateral triangles, isosceles triangles, right-angled triangles, and rectangles. It was not until 26 months of age, however, that children were able to pre-orient all of the complex objects, including square and ellipsoid cross-sections, to the opening (Örnkloo & von Hofsten, 2007). Thus, even going into the third year, children experience difficulty when they must integrate multiple spatial transformations to account for the sides and corners of objects in alignment or fitting tasks.

Fitting Bodies Into Openings: Scale Errors

Spatial DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 6. An Example of a Scale Error Made by a 24-Month-Old Child. The child is trying to force his foot inside the toy car. From “Scale errors offer evidence for a perception-action dissociation early in life,” by J. S. Deloache et al., 2004, Science, 304, 1027.

Copyright 2016 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Adapted with permission.

The spatial skills young children employ during fitting extend beyond inserting small handheld objects into openings. Children must also learn to make judgments based on the size of their own bodies in relation to other objects or openings (DeLoache, Uttal, & Rosengren, 2004; Franchak & Adolph, 2012; Ware, Uttal, & DeLoache, 2010). Although children as young as 20 months of age are capable of choosing an object of the correct size to fit into an opening (Shutts et al., 2009), they continue to make scale errors with regard to fitting their own bodies into miniature objects, such as toy cars or toy chairs (DeLoache et al., 2004, see Figure 6). For children to learn how their bodies scale to openings, they may need to (a) relate knowledge of their own body with the geometric properties of the miniature version of the object and (b) inhibit the motor program activated by the mental representation of the analogous life-size object (DeLoache et al., 2004). Taken together, findings relating to object and body fitting suggest that spatial fitting continues to pose challenges for children in the third year.

Object Play

The development of spatial skills in young children may be facilitated by giving them opportunities to play with and combine objects. For instance, providing children with opportunities to engage in block building and puzzle play may aid the development of their spatial skills (Casey et al., 2008; Levine, Ratliff, Huttenlocher, & Cannon, 2012). Effects of play on spatial development have been considered with respect to the frequency and quality of spatial play and are considered next.

Frequency of Spatial Play

The development of spatial skills has been hypothesized to be related to spatial play with objects. To establish a link between spatial play and spatial development, researchers have observed both children’s play in the home (Levine et al., 2012) and have examined the results of large, nationally representative samples of children on standardized assessments and parent-reported checklists (Jirout & Newcombe, 2015). In work conducted in children’s homes, researchers examined the relation between children’s early puzzle play and their spatial development (Levine et al., 2012). Levine et al. observed children playing with their toys in their home environments once every four months from 26 months of age to 46 months of age. At 54 months of age, these children were tested on a spatial task involving spatial transformations of two-dimensional shapes. Children who had played with puzzles at home scored higher on the spatial task than children who had not played with puzzles, even after controlling for parent education, income, and overall parent word types (Levine et al., 2012). These results were supported and extended in a large, nationally representative study of 847 children between the ages of 4 and 7 years (Jirout & Newcombe, 2015). Jirout and Newcombe analyzed data collected by Pearson Education during the standardization of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-IV (WPPSI-IV) standardized assessment to determine if the relation between spatial play and spatial development was maintained in a nationally representative sample. The parent-reported frequency of spatial play and the Block Design scores on the WPPSI-IV were positively related and did not vary across gender and socioeconomic status (Jirout & Newcombe, 2015). These studies provide evidence that the frequency of spatial play does indeed relate to the development of spatial skills, at least in the preschool and early elementary school years.

Quality of Spatial Play

Although the frequency of spatial play has been shown to be important for spatial development, the quality of spatial play is thought to moderate the effect of frequency of spatial play (Casey et al., 2008; Ferrara, Hirsh-Pasek, Newcombe, Golinkoff, & Lam, 2011; Levine et al., 2012). To examine the quality of spatial play, Ferrara et al. (2011) contrasted three types of spatial play situations (free play, guided play, and preassembled play) with 3- to 4.5-year-old children and their parents and the spatial language these situations evoked. In the free-play situation, children and their parents were instructed to build whatever they want; in the guided-play situation, parents were instructed to help their children build a predetermined structure; and in the preassembled-play situation, children and their parents were instructed to play with a structure that was already built. The results revealed that parents and children used significantly more spatial language in the guided-play situation than in either of the other play situations (Ferrara et al., 2011). In other work examining the effects of the quality of spatial play on spatial development, researchers asked kindergarten children and their teachers to play with blocks in a storytelling situation or a no-storytelling situation (Casey et al., 2008). Casey et al. found that block play in the storytelling situation increased the complexity of block structures that the children subsequently built and improved their scores on a standardized measure of spatial visualization. Taken together, these studies provide empirical evidence for the influence of the quality of spatial play on spatial development in preschool and kindergarten children.

Mathematical Achievement and Spatial Play

To date, a considerable body of research suggests that spatial abilities are related to success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields (Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009). Investigators have suggested that the effects of spatial play can influence later mathematical abilities (Mix & Cheng, 2012). Grissmer et al. (2013) demonstrated that kindergarten and first grade children’s math scores improve after the use of an intervention comprised of a variety of spatial assembly toys, such as Lego® blocks. Similarly, Cheng and Mix (2014) found that training in mental rotation improved 6- to 8-year-old children’s math scores.

Additionally, researchers have considered the relation between block building and mathematical abilities, both concurrently and longitudinally (Verdine et al., 2016; Wolfgang, Stannard, & Jones, 2001). Verdine et al. developed the Test of Spatial Abilities (TOSA) to assess the contribution of spatial skills to mathematical abilities in children as young as 3 years of age (Verdine et al., 2016; Verdine, Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek, & Newcombe, 2014; Verdine, Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek, Newcombe et al., 2014). The TOSA uses interlocking colored plastic blocks to assess children’s understanding of rotations, translations, and vertical displacement of objects. Children’s scores on the TOSA at 3 years of age accounted for 37% of the variability in children’s math scores at 5 years of age. After statistically controlling for vocabulary, executive function, and math scores, the unique variability in 5-year-old children’s math scores accounted for by the children’s 3-year-old TOSA scores was reduced to 5%. The 5% unique variability, however, was still more than double the amount of unique variability (2%) accounted for by 3-year-old children’s mathematics scores (Verdine et al., 2016).

Collectively, these studies suggest that early gains in spatial abilities may have far-reaching consequences on school readiness and academic performance, especially in STEM-related areas. In light of these findings, researchers have recommended that preschools should increase the amount of time that children spend in activities that promote high-quality spatial play with objects (Verdine et al., 2016).

Spatial Orientation, Navigation, and Representation

Spatial Frames of Reference

A fundamental issue regarding spatial development is how individuals code the location of themselves and objects. This section considers how children begin to code where objects are located in space. Researchers of spatial cognition have discussed this problem with respect to the construct of spatial frames of reference. Spatial frames of reference generally refer to the bodily and/or environmental features that an organism uses to define the spatial position of a stimulus (Pick & Lockman, 1981). Researchers have distinguished between two major types of spatial reference systems that organisms use. One involves features or locations on the body or the position of the overall body. These are generally referred to as egocentric reference systems. The other involves features or locations in the environment surrounding the body. These are generally referred to as allocentric or objective reference systems. For both egocentric and allocentric reference systems, it is important to realize that there might be different types of reference frameworks within each of these systems and that an organism may code the location of a stimulus with respect to multiple frameworks simultaneously. Additionally, the use of a particular type of reference system for coding location may be tied to the action system that is involved in localizing a stimulus or event.

Eye Movements: Retinal Versus Body-Centered Coding Systems

When individuals make saccades or rapid eye movements to a target located in their periphery (see section on Visual Sensitivity to Radial Direction), there are at least two possible ways that they may code that target’s location. One way is based on the position of the target on the retina (i.e., retinocentric), another is based on the position of the target relative to the head (i.e., a type of egocentric coding; Gilmore & Johnson, 1997). Retinocentric coding of a target may not be reliable, since once a saccade is initiated, the position of that target on the retina changes. Research suggests that between 4 and 6 months, infants change the way in which they code spatial position when making saccades. Infants shift from coding the location of a target based on retinocentric information to coding the location of a target based more on egocentric information, tied to the relatively stable position of the head (Gilmore & Johnson, 1997).

Egocentric to Allocentric Shift

Beyond six months, the frames of reference that infants use to code location become further differentiated and extend beyond the body. The timing of some of these changes may be linked to the emergence of new action systems. As infants develop the ability to locomote, coding the spatial position of a target with respect to the body (i.e., egocentrically) may no longer be reliable as infants change their location in space. For instance, as infants actively locomote through a space, what was originally on the left at the beginning of a crawling or walking journey, may now be on the right. Acredolo (1978) found that there is a developmental shift in how infants code the location of a target between 6 and 16 months. In this longitudinal study, infants were first conditioned to turn their heads to one side (e.g., the left) to anticipate an interesting event. Next, their view was reversed. Infants were taken to the opposite side of the room and rotated 180°. Researchers could thus determine whether the infants anticipated the event by making an egocentric (i.e., turning to the left) response or the correct allocentric (turning to the right) response. Results indicated that infants mainly responded egocentrically at 6 and 11 months but responded allocentrically at 16 months. In a subsequent study, when a very salient landmark (i.e., stripes with lights) was added to the target location and a similar procedure was used, allocentric responding predominated in 9- and 11-month-old infants. In contrast, 6-month-old infants now showed a mixed pattern of responding, displaying both egocentric and allocentric responding (Acredolo & Evans, 1980, see Figure 7).

Spatial DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 7. Diagram of the Experimental Space Used by Acredolo (1978) to Test Spatial Orientation in Infants. From “Development of Spatial Orientation in Infancy,” by L. P. Acredolo, Developmental Psychology, 14, 226.

Copyright 1978 by the American Psychology Association, Inc. Adapted with permission.

Together, these findings suggest that during the second half-year, infants are beginning to transition from coding spatial location egocentrically to coding it allocentrically. This developmental pattern is not limited to one particular response system, such as head-turning. After they are trained to reach to one of two containers located to their left or right on a table, 9-month-old infants show an egocentric bias when reaching following a 180° rotation to the opposite side of the table (Bremner & Bryant, 1977).

At the same time, it is important to recognize that even in the early part of the second year, infants are not solely tied to egocentric coding. Under conditions of strong environmental support, such as a very salient landmark, infants in the second half-year show decreased egocentric responding (see also Rieser, 1979). Moreover, if 6-month-olds are tilted with respect to gravity when they learn a target’s location and then tilted in a new direction to test the basis of this spatial coding, they respond allocentrically (Rieser, 1979). These findings suggest that even at 6 months, infants are not always bound by the original egocentric response. After a change in position in some circumstances, infants in the early part of the second half-year can code a target’s location allocentrically or update their new position relative to the target or both.

The timing of the shift from egocentric to allocentric coding of location during or after the second half-year has led some investigators to suggest an experiential reason for the change. The source of the shift may be rooted in the onset of self-produced locomotion (Bai & Bertenthal, 1992; Bertenthal, Campos, & Barrett, 1984). There is evidence suggesting that early walkers show more advanced spatial skills, including objective coding of location, than late walkers (Campos & Bertenthal, 1989). Nevertheless, the evidence for this proposition has been largely correlational. Differences in spatial coding between earlier and later crawlers or walkers may stem from overall maturational differences between the two groups independent of locomotor experience. To attempt to test these alternate accounts, investigators are beginning to provide pre-locomotor infants with the opportunity to locomote on their own by providing them with infant walkers or power mobility devices that the infants control or “drive” (Anderson et al., 2013). All told, the evidence seems to suggest that the transition to the allocentric coding of location may be facilitated by the onset of self-produced locomotion, although the stronger claim that such experience is necessary for the shift to occur has yet to be proven.

Allocentric Coding and Orientation

Researchers have further distinguished at least three types of allocentric coding for making spatial judgments. These types of allocentric coding rely on geometric, featural, and/or categorical properties of space.

In research on spatial coding, geometric properties often refer to the angle and extent (distance, length, or height) between an object and its enclosure or between an object and another object. For instance, the geometric properties of the enclosure, such as the relative length of the walls in relation to an object in the room, can be used for making judgments about space (Cheng, 1986; Hermer & Spelke, 1996). Featural properties of objects, such as colors or markings on surfaces, may also be used for making spatial judgments. For instance, individuals may rely on the color of a wall to remain oriented in a room (Learmonth, Newcombe, & Huttenlocher, 2001). Finally, spatial categorical coding of an object’s location (e.g., to the left or right or above or below or both) may be used for remembering the object’s location relative to a space. For instance, individuals may remember the location of an object based on its relation to the center of a region (Hund & Plumert, 2002). Further, these different ways of spatial coding may be integrated for optimal processing of orientation (for review, see Cheng, Huttenlocher, & Newcombe, 2013; Newcombe & Huttenlocher, 2006).

Geometric Coding

The evolutionary and developmental origins of spatial coding via geometric properties has been of considerable interest to researchers who study humans and nonhuman animals. Many mobile species, including fish, birds, and nonhuman mammals, as well as humans, appear to be sensitive to geometric properties for coding location (Cheng & Newcombe, 2005).

As human children become increasingly mobile, they show evidence of using the geometric properties of enclosed spaces, such as rooms, for coding location. Young children, between 18 and 24 months of age, will search the geometrically congruent corners of a rectangular room (e.g., a long wall to the left and a short wall to the right of the child) to find an object, suggesting that they are using the cue of the relative length of walls to code the object’s location (Hermer & Spelke, 1996). In some cases, young children privilege the use of the geometric arrangement of the walls over discrete landmarks, such as the color of a wall. Further, young children’s use of the geometric properties of enclosed spaces has even been shown to be generalizable to triangular spaces (Huttenlocher & Vasilyeva, 2003; Lourenco, Huttenlocher, & Vasilyeva, 2005).

The previous studies described in this section focused on children’s spatial judgments in large-scales spaces. Researchers have also asked questions about other forms of geometric coding, such as reliance on object extent. Such judgments are also thought to be important for understanding magnitude and numerosity, which contribute to the foundations of mathematical thinking (Libertus, Feigenson, & Halberda, 2011). In research on judging extent, young children are tested on their ability to use geometric properties of a target object in relation to a comparison object. Research has shown that after a short delay (five seconds) 2-year-old children can remember the spatial extent of a target object if it is presented with a comparison object (Huttenlocher, Duffy, & Levine, 2002). Without the aid of a comparison object, 2-year-old children have difficulty representing extent. When the comparison object is not provided for judging extent, however, it is not until 4 years of age that children make successful spatial judgments.

Featural Coding

Although children can rely on the geometric properties of a space to locate objects, this is not always the most accurate choice when making spatial judgments. As noted in the section “Geometric Coding,” young children search for objects in the geometrically congruent corners of small rooms, only one of which is the correct location (Hermer & Spelke, 1996; Learmonth et al., 2001). To facilitate locating an object in a large room, children may also need to rely on the featural properties of the room, such as landmarks, to constrain spatial choices. Children at 18 months of age begin to use featural properties, such as a colored wall (Learmonth et al., 2001) or a projecting bump (Wang, Hermer, & Spelke, 1999), as landmarks for locating an object in a large room. Under some circumstances after being disoriented, it is not until 6 years of age that children begin to use landmarks for locating objects in a small room (Learmonth, Nadel, & Newcombe, 2002).

Categorical Coding

Finally, spatial coding of location can also be influenced by the spatial category (e.g., above or below, left or right) of an object’s location. Infants as young as 3 months of age have been found to be visually sensitive to the contrasting spatial categories of above and below as well as left and right (Quinn, 1994, 2004). For other types of spatial relations involving more complex visual stimuli (e.g., a monkey in or outside of a wicker basket), 6-month-old infants may have an understanding of the spatial category of containment (i.e., whether one object is located within another object; Casasola, Cohen, & Chiarello, 2003).

Young children’s ability to localize objects may be influenced by spatial categories as well. Huttenlocher, Newcombe, and Sandberg (1994) found that children at 16 months of age who watched a toy being hidden in a rectangular sandbox tended to search toward the center of the sandbox in relation to where the object was hidden (Huttenlocher et al., 1994). Further, children’s ability to use information from spatial categories may strengthen during childhood (Hund & Plumert, 2002, 2003). Following a delay, Hund and Plumert found that by 7 years of age, children and adults were similarly biased toward the center of a region when locating objects.

Taken together, research on geometric, featural, and categorical coding has shown that each of these types of spatial coding are increasingly employed in combination with one another in different environments. As children develop, they begin to use spatial coding selectively based on the constraints of the task in which they are engaged. Demanding tasks in complex environments require children to use an adaptive combination of geometric, featural, and categorical coding to succeed in orienting themselves and locating objects (Newcombe & Huttenlocher, 2006).

Early Navigation Abilities

The ability to code location allocentrically presumably helps individuals, including infants, navigate their environments without going to the wrong location or getting lost. But how does the ability to plan routes to different locations develop? In this section, the development of early navigation abilities is discussed. As individuals go from one place to another, they need to keep track of and update their positions (Rieser, 1989). At an even more basic level, they need to recognize that in order to get from one point to another, they may need to go not by a direct route but by an indirect one. Research on the development of the ability to make detours in space suggests that this fundamental spatial skill emerges gradually in the second half-year. Surprisingly, this ability is initially action specific. Lockman (1984) found, in a series of longitudinal studies, that when infants under a year had to retrieve an object around an upright barrier, they made reaching detours several weeks before they made locomotor detours. The reason for the lag had more to do with spatial competence than motor competence since infants were able to reach as well as crawl at the time they started to make the reaching detours. Conceptually related findings about action specificity have been reported by Adolph (2000), who found that infants will not reach across a wide gap to avoid falling but will attempt to crawl over the same width gap.

In the second year, advances occur in toddlers’ abilities to localize a target. These advances suggest important changes in the underlying processes by which young children keep track of movement and represent space. Rieser and Heiman (1982) found that by 18 months, after toddlers have learned to turn to the location of a target and are then rotated to a new position in a circular enclosure, they will often turn back to the target by the shortest route, even if this was not the original direction they had learned. This finding suggests that in a relatively simple environment, toddlers are beginning to keep track of their changing position in space in relation to an overall representation of that space. This ability continues to develop over the following years and builds on previously discussed advances in spatial orientation (see Acredolo, 1978). Between 2 and 4 years of age, children become better able to update their position in space in relation to more complex environmental layouts and after a series of translations (lateral displacements) and turns (Rider & Rieser, 1988). Rieser (1989) has suggested that this advance in updating location during self-movement hinges in part on children learning how changes in proprioception during movement co-vary with the changes in the resulting views of environments from different perspectives.

Rieser’s account can also help us understand how the development of spatial perspective-taking ability may be rooted in physical action. Rieser, Garing, and Young (1994) compared two strategies for imagining the position of a target in a familiar environment that children were not in currently. In the locomotor strategy condition, children imagined walking from one vantage point to another as they physically walked a path that resembled the imagined walking path. In the imagination-only strategy condition, children just imagined being located at the second vantage point without engaging in any walking. Rieser et al. (1994) found that by 3.5 years of age, children’s perspective taking was enhanced by use of the locomotor strategy but not the imagination-only strategy. These findings are consistent with the idea that a relevant physical action can prime spatial imagination and perspective-taking skills.

Cognitive Maps

Besides being able to remain oriented in space after movement and to imagine locations from new positions, adults appear to have integrated representations of familiar large-scale spaces. These integrated representations allow individuals to go from one place to another in an environment even if they have never traveled directly between those locations. Furthermore, these integrated representations enable individuals to infer the straight-line or Euclidean relations between two locations, even if they have never obtained an overview of the space or traveled directly between these locations. Spatial-cognition researchers have suggested that these integrated representations often have many of the properties that one would associate with an overhead map, even if individuals do not mentally imagine a map when they think about a space. Developmentally, a key question has been, when do children begin to acquire map-like representations of an environment? Such a representation would clearly be adaptive in that it would not only foster efficient travel but also lessen the likelihood of getting lost.

Siegel and White (1975) suggested that young children’s first representations of an environment are fragmented and route-like. Young children may know how to travel from A to B and from B to C, but absent direct experience, they would not be able to infer how to travel from A to C. With experience, however, children develop more gestalt-like or survey-like representations of an environment, which enables them to make spatial inferences between locations even if that relation was not directly perceived (Siegel & White, 1975). Hazen, Lockman, and Pick (1978) tested this developmental progression by training 3- to 6-year-old children to follow a route through a series of adjoining rooms. Whereas the younger children exhibited the ability to travel the learned route in reverse, only the older children were able to make inferences about the spatial relation between rooms that they had never directly traveled. Taken together, these results support the route to survey-like progression in environmental knowledge that was proposed by Siegel and White (1975).

Of course, route knowledge and survey knowledge of the same environment may coexist in the same individual. Further, each form of knowledge may undergo additional development beyond the early childhood years. For instance, between second and fifth grades, children become better at identifying potential landmarks at critical junctures along a route that is depicted in a series of slides (Allen, Kirasic, Siegel, & Herman, 1979). Moreover, route knowledge and survey knowledge may interact with one another throughout childhood. Although children may be acquiring survey knowledge of a space, they are still influenced by route or functional distance when attempting to represent an environment. Kosslyn, Pick, and Fariello (1974) found that 4- to 5-year-old children perceived objects as further apart if the objects were separated by an opaque or transparent barrier as compared to objects separated by the same distance but with no intervening barrier present.

Symbolic Representations of Space

Research reviewed in the section “Cognitive Maps” focused on the development of internal representations of large-scale spaces. This section considers research on the development of children’s use of external representations of large-scale spaces. Knowledge about large-scale spatial layouts can be facilitated by the use of external representations such as scale models and maps. These symbolic representations allow individuals to learn about familiar and unfamiliar spaces without direct experience, such as walking or driving. When individuals use symbolic representations, they can often obtain a view of space that extends beyond what can be readily observed. One way in which symbolic representations may help individuals process information is by providing a template for conceptualizing the layout of a space (Uttal, 2000). Experience with symbolic representations may thus help individuals reason about spatial relations in more absolute terms (i.e., distance, size, angle, cardinal direction; see Uttal, 2000).

When are children able to use symbolic representations to reason about space? Children use rudimentary scale models at approximately 3 years of age. For instance, in one series of studies, children at 36 but not 30 months of age can (a) detect the correspondence between a full-sized toy hidden in a full-sized room and a miniature version of the toy hidden in a miniature scale model of the room, and (b) use this correspondence to find the full-sized toy (DeLoache, 1987). To account for these findings, DeLoache (1987) proposed a dual-representation theory in which children need to know that the scale model is both an object itself and a representation of the full-sized room. Even though children 36 months of age can solve this scale model task (DeLoache, 1987), children in this age range still have difficulty extracting spatial information from more complex symbolic representations (i.e., scale models with multiple identical objects; Blades & Cooke, 1994).

A similar pattern emerges for map use. Preschool children not only understand the dual representation of a simple map but are able to use the map to learn new spatial relations (Bluestein & Acredolo, 1979; Uttal & Wellman, 1989). For instance, Uttal and Wellman (1989) tested whether 4- to 7-year-old children are able to use a simple diagrammatic map to learn the spatial relations in a six-room structure. Compared to children who were not presented with a map, children who were presented with a map were able to navigate through the structure in fewer trials and were better able locate hidden objects (Uttal & Wellman, 1989). In an extension of this work, when 8-year-old children were asked to learn the layout of adjoining rooms, they benefited from the use of a map but not from a verbal description of the layout. When a verbal description was given in combination with an outline of the shape of the adjoining rooms, however, 8-year-old children were able to transcend the serial nature of the verbal description and induce spatial relations between rooms (see Uttal, Fisher, & Taylor, 2006).

Although preschool children are able to use simple diagrammatic models or maps of large-scale spaces, they often have difficulty extracting spatial information from more complex representations, such as aerial photographs and cartographic maps (Liben & Downs, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993). It is possible that a simple diagrammatic map reduces the cognitive demands associated with processing spatial relations, whereas a more complex map taxes the cognitive load because young children need to suppress irrelevant information (e.g., color) while attending to the relevant spatial information (e.g., distance). Another reason young children may have difficulty using more complex representations is that, though they are able to detect the dual representation of the map, they simultaneously struggle with the geometric relations between the referent space and the map (see Liben & Downs, 1993). Put another way, children may understand that the map or picture is a representation of something else but struggle to make inferences about the geometric properties of the referent space based on the map. In sum, map use is not a singular achievement but, rather, an accumulation of component achievements (Liben & Downs, 1993). Thus, not surprisingly, the development of the ability to understand the geometric conventions for map use may extend beyond the preschool years. Additional work is needed to understand how this process unfolds in the elementary school years and beyond.

Spatial DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 8. Types of Differences Between an Actual Space and the Representation of that Space that Map Users, Including Children, May Need to Take Into Account. From “Development and Evaluation of ‘Where Are We?’ Map-Skills Software and Curriculum,” by K. A. Kastens, D. Kaplan, & K. Christie-Blick, Journal of Geoscience Education, 49, 249.

Copyright 2001 by the Journal of Geoscience Education. Adapted with permission.

When considering map use, it is important to keep in mind that maps are not exact representations of a space. Failure to take that fact into account can bias spatial judgments. For instance, many people overestimate the size of Greenland due to the projection of the Mercator map. This and other geographical misconceptions may be due in part to misunderstanding the map making process. Liben (1999) has suggested that a critical component of map use is understanding how the representation of the referent space was created. Integrating the cartographic process into geography curricula may help children understand the transformations involved in representing environments with maps (Kastens, Kaplan, & Christie-Blick, 2001; see Figure 8).

Individual Differences in Spatial Cognition

How and why some people are better “spatial thinkers” than others? This has been the focus of work on individual differences in spatial abilities. Individual differences have important consequences for everyday living and professional advancement. Spatial abilities in high school predict success in STEM disciplines 11 years later, even after controlling for verbal and mathematical skills (Wai et al., 2009). By far, the most attention to individual differences in spatial skill has centered on sex differences.

Sex Differences in Spatial Cognition

An extensive body of research suggests that sex differences in spatial cognition are seen at some point during the lifespan (Linn & Petersen, 1985; Newcombe & Huttenlocher, 2006). Although the distributions of scores in spatial abilities for males and females largely overlap, there appears to be a small but statistically significant male advantage in some tasks, such as mental rotation (i.e., the ability to rotate mental representations; Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden, 1995). To put it another way, many females excel on spatial tasks; however, fewer females than males tend to excel at the highest levels on some spatial tasks. Nevertheless, the potential consequences associated with sex differences in spatial abilities are underscored by the historical underrepresentation of women in STEM fields (Liben, 2015). Despite the political and economic implications of this disparity, the relative biological and environmental contributions to spatial abilities remain a matter of considerable controversy.

Researchers have attempted to address the nature–nurture debate about sex differences in spatial abilities within a developmental context. There are conflicting findings regarding the age at which sex differences first become evident in spatial tasks, however. Although some studies have found sex differences on mental-rotation tasks in infants as young as 3 months of age (Moore & Johnson, 2008, 2011; Quinn & Liben, 2008; see Figure 9), other studies have failed to find reliable sex differences on mental-rotation tasks in infants (Frick & Mohring, 2013; Mohring & Frick, 2013). Similarly, some studies have found consistent sex differences on mental-rotation tasks in preschoolers (Levine et al., 2012), though others have not (Frick, Hansen, & Newcombe, 2013). Despite these inconsistent findings at younger ages, researchers suggest that sex differences in tests of spatial abilities are present by the start of elementary school (Levine, Huttenlocher, Taylor, & Langrock, 1999), and increase over childhood and adolescence (Linn & Peterson, 1985; Voyer et al., 1995).

Spatial DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 9. Examples of the Visual Stimuli by Moore and Johnson (2008) to Test for Mental Rotation in Infants. From “Mental Rotation in Human Infants: A Sex Difference,” by D. S. Moore & S. P. Johnson, Psychological Science, 19, 1064.

Copyright 2008 by the Association for Psychological Science. Adapted with permission.

Early sex differences in spatial cognition have often been misinterpreted to mean that these differences are biologically absolute and fixed. These theories have either been rejected or are supported by inconclusive evidence (Newcombe & Steiff, 2012). That said, there is evidence that prenatal exposure to male hormones strengthens spatial skills in females. Yet it is unclear whether the underlying mechanism connecting early hormone exposure to sex differences in spatial abilities occurs through the prenatal organization of the brain or the postnatal selection of experiences. For instance, adolescent and adult females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) who were exposed to higher levels of prenatal androgens (male sex hormones) in utero than typically developing fetuses, exhibited better spatial abilities than adolescent and adult females without CAH (Berenbaum, Bryk, & Beltz, 2012; Puts, McDaniel, Jordan, & Breedlove, 2008 ). Consistent with these findings, females with a male fraternal twin, who are consequently exposed to greater amounts of prenatal male sex hormones, show better spatial abilities than other females (Vuoksimaa et al., 2010). One possible mechanism by which early hormonal exposure affects subsequent spatial development is through an interaction between biology and environment. In this account, male hormone exposure in utero may indirectly affect spatial development after birth through play preferences. Young children with greater exposure to male hormones may seek out or be provided with experiences (e.g. toys, video games, activities), or both, that lead to improved spatial skills.

Regardless of the debate over whether sex differences in spatial abilities are biological in origin, research consistently demonstrates that sex differences are related to experience and that they increase over time (Uttal et al., 2013; Voyer et al., 1995). Experience can both directly and indirectly influence sex differences in children’s spatial abilities. For instance, spatial skills may be amenable to direct training (Uttal et al., 2013). In addition, spatial skills may be influenced by other environmental experiences. Play with video games and puzzles that engages complex spatial skills is related to better performance on mental-rotation and spatial-transformation tasks (Levine, Ratliff, Huttenlocher, & Cannon, 2012; Terlecki & Newcombe, 2005) and these effects may last into adulthood (Newcombe, Bandura, & Taylor, 1983). Research also suggests that girls may not be provided or encouraged to play with the types of toys that exercise spatial thinking (Baenninger & Newcombe, 1995; Terlecki & Newcombe, 2005). Additionally, subtle social biases may indirectly influence spatial ability. As early as the fourth grade, girls who believe that boys are better at spatial tasks (including math) perform worse on tests of mental rotation than their peers (Neuburger, Ruthsatz, Jansen, & Quaiser-Pohl, 2015).

Despite the fact that biological and environmental approaches to sex differences in spatial abilities have been typically considered opposing and independent views, deeper consideration of each approach reveals that the underlying mechanisms associated with each perspective are not mutually exclusive. In line with this idea, a biopsychosocial approach to sex differences in spatial abilities emphasizes the reciprocal interaction among biological, social, and psychological factors across the lifespan (Miller & Halpern, 2014). This idea is consistent with findings in related fields, such as epigenetics, that biological and environmental factors interact with one another at cellular and extracellular levels (Meaney, 2010). According to biopsychosocial theory, initial differences in spatial abilities that are biological in origin may be intensified, or reduced, by the individual’s environment.

By taking an approach in which biological and environmental factors interact over developmental time, it may be possible to resolve some of the paradoxes in the sex-differences literature on spatial abilities. For instance, biopsychosocial theory may help address why some spatial skills, such as mental rotation, evidence sex differences, while other related tasks, such as mental folding, evidence sex similarities (Miller & Halpern, 2014). Similarly, biopsychosocial theory may address how sex differences in some spatial tasks have diminished over historical time, whereas others have increased (Feingold, 1988; Voyer et al., 1995).

One strategy for examining the mutual influence of biological and environmental factors on sex differences in spatial abilities is to consider such differences from a cross-cultural perspective. Through the judicious selection of cultural groups, cross-cultural work can provide opportunities to contrast the spatial abilities between the sexes that are nested within different environments. To date, however, there has been little cross-cultural work on sex differences in early spatial abilities.

In sum, it is overly simplistic to conclude that sex differences in spatial abilities result exclusively from nature or nurture. Instead, sex differences in spatial abilities are determined by multiple interacting factors. It remains unclear how biological factors, such as prenatal hormone exposure, influence sex differences in spatial skills over the long term. In contrast to the contribution of biological factors, research has consistently demonstrated the direct and indirect influences of the child’s environment on spatial development.

Training

Just like your jump shot in basketball or your tennis backhand, your ability to use a map or engage in other spatial skills can improve with practice. More generally, researchers have explored a wide variety of training programs for children and adults as a way to target and strengthen spatial competence. Many studies have demonstrated that spatial thinking is critical for success in STEM disciplines (Wai et al., 2009). Successful improvement in spatial skills as a result of training may lead to improvement in performance across a variety of STEM disciplines. As noted in the section “Mathematical Achievement and Spatial Play,” spatial training has been causally linked to improvement on mathematics assessments in children of early elementary-school age (Cheng & Mix, 2012; Grissmer et al., 2013). Researchers and educators have increasingly realized that improving spatial abilities through training has practical importance for children’s academic and professional success.

In a meta-analyses of over 200 studies on spatial-abilities training in children and adults, Uttal et al. (2013) found strong (.47 with an experimental control group) to very strong (.62 without an experimental control group) positive effects associated with spatial-training programs. Beyond such immediate gains, it is also important to determine if these effects are (a) maintained over time and (b) generalize to other spatial skills. Based on the Uttal et al. meta-analyses, it appears that the effects of training are evident up to one month later and can transfer to related spatial skills. Additionally, in a study not included in the Uttal et al. (2013) meta-analyses, Tzuriel and Egozi (2010) found that the effects of training were maintained for six to seven weeks and transferred to related tasks (D. Tzuriel, personal communication, July, 2015). Nevertheless, little research has examined the longer term impacts of training. It would be naïve to suggest that brief training sessions for STEM education are sufficient to have lasting impacts. For the effects to be truly durable, training may need to be continuously and extensively integrated into the school curriculum.

Two important developmental questions arise in regard to implementing training programs: At what age should training programs be initiated, and is there a period of development that is more sensitive than other developmental periods to the effects of spatial training? To date, investigators have found that spatial abilities improve with training regardless of the age at which training takes place; however, few studies have directly compared the effects of training between age groups (Uttal et al., 2013). For instance, research has yet to explore whether training during the preschool years moderates the effects of training at later ages. One possibility is that early training may have cascading effects throughout development. Along these lines, given that the ability to mentally rotate an object is still developing in the preschool period (Frick et al., 2013), targeting training early in development may facilitate success on later-developing spatial skills. In future work, investigators should systematically examine spatial malleability as a function of age.

Can training eliminate sex differences in spatial abilities? There is some evidence with first graders and university students that extensive training can reduce sex differences in spatial cognition (Feng, Spend, & Pratt, 2007; Tzuriel & Egozi, 2010). Yet other work has shown that males and females benefit equally from training. In their meta-analyses, Uttal et al. found both genders benefited equally from training with males outperforming females prior to and after training (consistent with prior meta-analyses, see Baenninger & Newcombe, 1989; Uttal et al., 2013). Given that initially low-achieving individuals are more responsive to training than are initially high-achieving individuals (Uttal et al., 2013), training may have the greatest success at reducing sex differences in low spatially performing children.

In sum, current research suggests that there is no one recipe for improving spatial abilities. Findings suggest that spatial skills can improve with training across ages, for both genders, and by using a multitude of programs (Uttal et al., 2013). Nevertheless, there are limitations to research on spatial training. Research needs to test the long-term durability of training, the amount of training necessary to elicit permanent changes, and the effects of training across age groups. The efficacy of spatial-skills training has implications that extend beyond the research in spatial development. In view of research suggesting that early spatial abilities are malleable, implementing spatial training into school curricula has the potential to improve achievement across the STEM disciplines.

Blindness

The role of visual experience in the development of both spatial perception and representation has been of interest to both researchers and practitioners. From a theoretical perspective, researchers have asked to what extent a history of visual experience facilitates different aspects of spatial performance and whether other sensory modalities may compensate for the loss of vision (Pasqualotto & Proulx, 2012). From a practice perspective, understanding how other sensory modalities may compensate for the absence of vision may help target strategies for intervention (Rieser, Hill, Talor, Bradfield, & Rosen, 1992).

In work on spatial perception, researchers have reported improved auditory spatial discrimination in blind humans (Rice, 1970; Rieser, 2008; Röder et al., 1999). The improved auditory spatial discrimination in blind humans has been hypothesized to be due to the compensatory reorganization of brain areas that lead to improved spatial resolution for sound sources (Röder et al., 1999), resulting in enhanced auditory spatial abilities (Emerson & Ashmead, 2008). From a developmental perspective, we may ask when do we first begin to see evidence of enhanced auditory spatial abilities in blind children? When comparing 14-year-old blind children to typically developing children of the same age, Ashmead et al. (1998) found that children with blindness had better spatial resolution (1.75°) when localizing sounds on a horizontal plane than children with typical vision (3.40°) but similar spatial resolution to adults with typical vision (1.70°). More dramatic effects of enhanced auditory spatial abilities in blind children have been found when they localize sounds in the vertical plane and at a distance. Children with blindness (~6°, 12%) had better spatial resolution of sounds in the vertical plane and at a distance compared not only to children with typical vision (~9°, 14%), but also to adults with typical vision (~11°, 16%; Ashmead et al., 1998).

When the same children were tested on reaching for sounds, a different pattern of results emerged. When reaching toward sounds in the horizontal and vertical planes, children with and without blindness made small errors of similar size. When reaching toward a sound in depth, however, children with blindness were more accurate than children with typical vision (Ashmead et al., 1998). Children with blindness made small errors of only 2.7 cm; whereas children with typical vision were often 9.5 cm short of the goal when reaching for a sound. This large difference in reaching accuracy would have detrimental effects in the real world. Children with typical vision would miss the object they intended to reach, and children with blindness would touch the object they intended to reach.

In work on spatial representation, researchers have asked whether individuals with a lifelong history of blindness represent the layout of large-scale spaces differently than individuals who lose vision later in life. A history of some visual experience may aid in the conceptualization of spatial layout. Relative to individuals who are blind from birth (congenitally blind), those who lost sight later in life (adventitiously blind) might be better able to imagine the spatial relations among a network of locations after traveling between a subset of them and, in some cases, after traveling only indirectly between them. Rieser, Lockman, and Pick (1980) tested this possibility by asking sighted, adventitiously blind, and congenitally blind adults to judge the Euclidean (as-the-crow-flies) distance between different locations in a familiar large-scale space that both of the blind groups had traversed but had never seen. Some of these locations were separated by walls and required individuals to travel between them by indirect routes. Not surprisingly, sighted individuals performed best. But adventitiously blind individuals outperformed congenitally blind individuals, suggesting that a history of visual experience can influence the way in which individuals represent the spatial layout of environments that are traveled but never observed.

Collectively, the findings on the effects of blindness on spatial skills suggest that different kinds of effects are found depending on the perceptual or cognitive ability that is being considered. Although blindness from birth can lead to enhanced spatial discrimination when auditory localization abilities are considered, the same kind of vision loss can lead to difficulties in developing survey-like representations of large-scale environments in which Euclidean distance is preserved (see also Pasqualotto & Proulx, 2012).

Future Directions

Questions about the nature of spatial development have been of long-standing interest to both philosophers and psychologists who address the origins of knowledge. Perhaps, then, it is only fitting to conclude a review of spatial development with a consideration of where we go from here. Three directions for future research are highlighted. First, although the neural basis of some spatial achievements has been the focus of attention in neuroscience work with nonhuman animals and adult humans (e.g., see Amorapanth, Widick, & Chatterjee, 2009), considerably less is known about how developmental changes in spatial ability in human children are tied to underlying changes in brain structure and function. Understanding these brain-behavior relations during development will depend in part on methodological advances that allow the study of the brain while children perform different kinds of spatial tasks. The difficulty of this methodological challenge should not be underestimated. Many of the spatial tasks considered here require movement of the head, arms, or entire body. Yet current neuroscience methods used with humans often require that they remain relatively stable during brain imaging or the collection of event-related potentials. Until methods are developed that accommodate more movement, the types of spatial behaviors that can be studied at a neural level may be limited.

Second, at a macro-level, there has been very little work on how cross-cultural differences influence spatial development in children. Cultures vary in assigning spatial tasks and responsibilities to children at different points in development, including, for instance, how far they are allowed to roam. Yet little is understood about how childhood experiences may lead to variation in spatial competence. In research with adults, there is evidence that differences in spatial responsibilities as a function of culture influence spatial thinking. For instance, Micronesian navigators use a complex system of spatial imagination to guide a canoe over long distances without the aid of charts or instruments (Hutchins, 1983, 2008). This system represents not just an individual achievement, but the outcome of an ongoing set of cultural practices that are transmitted intra- and inter-generationally. More broadly, understanding cultural transmission processes within a developmental framework can illuminate the origins of universals, as well as variation in early spatial competence.

Finally, the rapid technological advances that have occurred in industrialized societies have produced new tools for accomplishing many spatial tasks. GPS systems, for instance, may help individuals get from one place to the next. But, one may also ask, at what spatial cost? If individuals, including children, do not need to engage the spatial problem-solving processes that underlie navigation, it is not clear how such reduced cognitive demands will influence the development of overall spatial competence. On the other hand, some new technological tools may promote spatial development and learning. For instance, playing video games can boost spatial reasoning skills (Terlecki & Newcombe, 2005). As the technological tools of industrialized cultures evolve, researchers, educators, and even parents will have to ask, in what ways do these tools help or hinder spatial development?

It is clear that knowledge about spatial development continues to develop. The original questions posed by philosophers more than 300 years ago about the origins of spatial understanding are as relevant now as they were then.

Acknowledgments

The writing of this chapter was supported in part by National Institutes of Health Award 5R01HD067581.

Further Reading

Atkinson, J. (2002). The developing visual brain. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Kavšek, M., Yonas, A., & Granrud, C. E. (2012). Infants’ sensitivity to pictorial depth cues: A review and meta-analysis of looking studies. Infant Behavior and Development, 35(1), 109–128.Find this resource:

Landau, B., & Hoffman, J. E. (2012). Spatial representation: From gene to mind. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Levine, S. C., Foley, A., Lourenco, S., Ehrlich, S., & Ratliff, K. (2016). Sex differences in spatial cognition: Advancing the conversation. Wires Cognitive Science, 7, 127–155.Find this resource:

Liben, L. S. (2009). The road to understanding maps. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 310–315.Find this resource:

Newcombe, N. S., & Huttenlocher, J. (2003). Making space: The development of spatial representation and reasoning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Find this resource:

Plumert, J. M., & Spencer, J. P. (2007). The emerging spatial mind. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Rieser, J. J., Ashmead, D. H., Ebner, F. F., & Corn, A. L. (2008). Blindness and brain plasticity in navigation and object perception. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Find this resource:

Uttal, D. H., & Cohen, C. A. (2012). Spatial thinking and STEM education: When, why, and how? In B. H. Ross (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 57, pp. 147–181). San Diego: Elsevier Academic Press.Find this resource:

Uttal, D. H., Miller, D. I., & Newcombe, N. S. (2013). Exploring and enhancing spatial thinking: Links to achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 367–373.Find this resource:

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