Switching from reaching to navigation: differential cognitive strategies for spatial memory in children and adults

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Navigational and reaching spaces are known to involve different cognitive strategies and brain networks, whose development in humans is still debated. In fact, high-level spatial processing, including allocentric location encoding, is already available to very young children, but navigational strategies are not mature until late childhood. The Magic Carpet (MC) is a new electronic device translating the traditional Corsi Block-tapping Test (CBT) to navigational space. In this study, the MC and the CBT were used to assess spatial memory for navigation and for reaching, respectively. Our hypothesis was that school-age children would not treat MC stimuli as navigational paths, assimilating them to reaching sequences. Ninety-one healthy children aged 6 to 11 years and 18 adults were enrolled. Overall short-term memory performance (span) on both tests, effects of sequence geometry, and error patterns according to a new classification were studied. Span increased with age on both tests, but relatively more in navigational than in reaching space, particularly in males. Sequence geometry specifically influenced navigation, not reaching. The number of body rotations along the path affected MC performance in children more than in adults, and in women more than in men. Error patterns indicated that navigational sequences were increasingly retained as global paths across development, in contrast to separately stored reaching locations. A sequence of spatial locations can be coded as a navigational path only if a cognitive switch from a reaching mode to a navigation mode occurs. This implies the integration of egocentric and allocentric reference frames, of visual and idiothetic cues, and access to long-term memory. This switch is not yet fulfilled at school age due to immature executive functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-586
Number of pages18
JournalDevelopmental Science
Volume18
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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