Convergence and Divergence in Representational Systems: Emergent Place Learning and Language in Toddlers


Language and spatial reasoning are two primary abstract representational systems in humans. Language acquisition has been much studied, while the ontogeny of spatial navigation is comparatively less well understood, as is the relationship between early language and space. This study explored emergent place learning and language in 16- to 24-month-old children using a spatial task adapted from the Morris water maze, and the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory. Children were placed in a circular enclosure and a puzzle was hidden under the floor at one location. Before each trial children were disoriented and placed in the maze from a different starting position. Their search strategies and success at finding the puzzle were coded. Older children demonstrated more spatial searching and more goal-finding success, as well as greater overall expressive vocabulary. Place learning and expressive language both significantly correlated with age, but place learning and language did not correlate with each other once age was partialled, with one crucial exception: a theoretically-predicted correlation between prepositions and goal localization.

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