Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2002


Published in Child Development, March/April 2002, Volume 73, Number 2, Pages 377-404. Copyright © 2002 by the Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. Published by Blackwell Publishing. Used by permission.


Thelen and colleagues recently proposed a dynamic field theory (DFT) to capture the general processes that give rise to infants’ performance in the Piagetian A-not-B task. According to this theory, the same general processes should operate in noncanonical A-not-B-type tasks with children older than 12 months. Three predictions of the DFT were tested by examining 3-year-olds’ location memory errors in a task with a homogeneous task space. Children pointed to remembered locations after delays of 0 s to 10 s. The spatial layout of the possible targets and the frequency with which children moved to each target was varied. As predicted by the DFT, children’s responses showed a continuous spatial drift during delays toward a longer term memory of previously moved-to locations. Furthermore, these delay-dependent effects were reduced when children moved to an “A” location on successive trials, and were magnified on the first trial to a nearby “B” location. Thus, the DFT generalized to capture the performance of 3-year-old children in a new task. In contrast to predictions of the DFT, however, 3-year-olds’ responses were also biased toward the midline of the task space— an effect predicted by the category adjustment (CA) model. These data suggest that young children’s spatial memory responses are affected by delay- and experience-dependent processes as well as the geometric structure of the task space. Consequently, two current models of spatial memory—the DFT and the CA model—provide incomplete accounts of children’s location memory abilities.