Discipline-Based Education Research Group


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Abstract for DBER Group Discussion on 2013‐02‐07


Copyright (c) 2013 Anne Schutte


Perception and cognition are inextricably intertwined. This interaction is evident in the development of spatial memory. Early in development there is a transition in memory biases. Young children’s spatial working memory (SWM) responses are biased toward the center of a homogenous space, whereas older children and adults subdivide the space along the midline symmetry axis, and their memory responses are biased away from the center of the space. According to Dynamic Field Theory (DFT), a dynamic systems model of spatial cognition, developmental changes in geometric biases in SWM are caused by changes in neural interaction in SWM and the development of children’s perceptual abilities. Specifically, over development of children’s ability to perceive the location of axes of symmetry improves quantitatively. Ortmann and Schutte (2010) examined whether there were changes in children’s ability to perceive the location of symmetry axes by having 3‐ to 6‐year‐olds and adults determine on which half of a large monitor a smiley face was located. Three‐ to 6‐year‐olds were above chance at classifying all but the location closest to midline, and over development there was improvement in the ability to localize the axis. Despite this apparent ability to perceive the symmetry axes, 3‐year‐olds do not reliably subdivide space in SWM tasks (Huttenlocher et al., 1994; Schutte et al., 2009). Perhaps their perception of midline is too “fuzzy” for them to use it as a reference axis in memory. Two studies support this proposal. First, when given perceptual support (i.e., cues on midline), 3‐year‐olds subdivide the space. Second, 3‐year‐olds’ perception of the midline symmetry axis is related to their memory biases. Specifically, children who are better able to determine on which side of midline a target is located are more likely to be biased away from midline in the spatial memory task for all targets except the two closest to midline. These results support Dynamic Field Theory and demonstrate interactions between perception and cognition over development.