Back to overview

Spatial Thinking and Embodied Cognition in Children and Adults

English title Spatial Thinking and Embodied Cognition in Children and Adults
Applicant Frick Andrea
Number 117012
Funding scheme Fellowships for prospective researchers
Research institution Social Sciences 2 Department of Psychology University of California
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.01.2007 - 31.12.2008
Show all

Keywords (7)

cognitive development; spatial representations; mental imagery; mental rotation; perspective change; embodied cognition; imagery

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
In the proposed research project, we investigated spatial cognition and mental imagery, with a focus on development in children. The ability to represent and reason about objects in space is an important aspect of everyday cognition. However, very little is known about the development of mental rotation abilities in the first years of life. Even in adults it is still unclear which factors affect mental spatial abilities or are responsible for individual differences.

A first aim of the proposed project was to elaborate a nonverbal paradigm in order to compare mental object rotation and observer rotation, and to bridge the gap between research with older and young children. For this end, a mental rotation paradigm was adapted and a touch screen monitor was used, in order to measure reaction times and error rates for both object and observer rotations. In several experiments we addressed the questions of (a) whether mental object and observer rotations are dissociated abilities or essentially based on the same mechanisms, (b) which factors are responsible for the differences in object and observer rotation tasks, (c) how mental rotation abilities develop, and (d) whether motor activity can facilitate performance in mental rotation tasks. The latter question is especially interesting in light of recent research on embodied cognition, which emphasizes the importance of sensory and motor functions in cognition and suggests a direct connection between perception and action. Previous research has shown that motor activities might be especially important for supporting imagery abilities in young children, which has fundamental practical implications. If motor activity and hands-on experience can facilitate cognitive abilities, it is even more important that children have opportunities to practice their motor skills.

In a first study with adults and school children, we found similar error patters for 6-, 8-year-olds and adults, showing that object transformations resulted in larger errors than comparable observer movements. A second set of experiments addressed the development of mental rotation skills at the age of 3 to 4 years. Preliminary results revealed large individual differences, thus we are currently investigating whether active hands-on training can promote mental rotation abilities at this age. A third study focuses on mental rotation abilities in infants. Our findings suggest that around the age of 15 to 16 months, infants are able to infer an orientation change of an object that undergoes a hidden transformation by mentally rotating it. Even younger infants' performance may be enhanced by previously providing them with active motor experience.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
131866 Development of Spatial Transformation Abilities 01.03.2011 Ambizione