New competencies may be learned through active experience (experiential learning or learning by doing) or observation of others’ experiences (learning by observation). Observing another person performing a complex action facilitates the observer’s acquisition of the same action. The present research is aimed at analyzing if the observation of specific explorative strategies adopted in a constrained environment, such as the Radial Arm Maze (RAM), could help young children to explore the maze and to build a cognitive spatial map of the explored environment. To this aim young children were randomly assigned to three groups: children who performed the RAM task following the observation of an actor solving the same maze by putting into action a highly structured exploratory strategy; children who performed the RAM task following the observation of the actor solving the same maze by putting into action a less structured exploratory strategy; children who directly performed the RAM task without any observation. The main result of the present research is that the children who observed the highly structured and correct exploratory strategy spent less time, made fewer errors, exhibited a longer spatial span, and thus they explored the maze more efficiently than the children who directly performed the RAM task without any observation. This finding indicates that when the observed explorative procedure is structured, sequential and repetitive the action understanding and information storage processes are more effective. Importantly, the observation of specific spatial strategies helped the children to build the cognitive spatial map of the explored environment and consequently to acquire/enrich the declarative knowledge of the environment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)