Barrier effects in the cognitive maps of children and adults

Nora Newcombe, Lynn S. Liben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


To study spatial representation, Kosslyn, Pick, and Fariello (Child Development, 1974, 45, 707-716) asked preschoolers and adults to learn toy locations in a room divided into quadrants. When asked to rank order the closeness of toys, preschoolers exaggerated distances between objects separated by opaque or transparent barriers; adults distorted across opaque barriers only. The findings were interpreted as showing that children's spatial representations may rely more than adults' on functional distance and/or that children may have more difficulty than adults keeping many objects in mind simultaneously (integrative processing capacity). The Kosslyn et al. procedure was repeated here with first graders and adults, using either rank ordering techniques or direct distance estimations. Interactions of age and barrier appeared for the rank ordering measure only. Children showed a greater tendency than adults to group their rankings by quadrant. With the distance estimation measure, adults were quantitatively more accurate than children, at least among males; barrier effects interacted with sex and distance, but not age. These findings suggest the importance of integrative processing capacity, and that different dependent measures may tap different processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-58
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1982

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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