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Four-year-olds use a mixture of spatial reference frames

Negen, J.; Nardini, M.

Four-year-olds use a mixture of spatial reference frames Thumbnail


J. Negen


Keeping track of unseen objects is an important spatial skill. In order to do this, people must situate the object in terms of different frames of reference, including body position (egocentric frame of reference), landmarks in the surrounding environment (extrinsic frame reference), or other attached features (intrinsic frame of reference). Nardini et al. hid a toy in one of 12 cups in front of children, turned the array when they were not looking, and then asked them to point to the cup with the toy. This forced children to use the intrinsic frame (information about the array of cups) to locate the hidden toy. Three-year-olds made systematic errors by using the wrong frame of reference, 4-year-olds were at chance, and only 5- and 6-year-olds were successful. Can we better understand the developmental change that takes place at four years? This paper uses a modelling approach to re-examine the data and distinguish three possible strategies that could lead to the previous results at four years: (1) Children were choosing cups randomly, (2) Children were pointing between the egocentric/extrinsic-cued location and the correct target, and (3) Children were pointing near the egocentric/extrinsic-cued location on some trials and near the target on the rest. Results heavily favor the last possibility: 4-year-olds were not just guessing or trying to combine the available frames of reference. They were using the intrinsic frame on some trials, but not doing so consistently. These insights suggest that accounts of improving spatial performance at 4 years need to explain why there is a mixture of responses. Further application of the selected model also suggests that children become both more reliant on the correct frame and more accurate with any chosen frame as they mature.


Negen, J., & Nardini, M. (2015). Four-year-olds use a mixture of spatial reference frames. PLoS ONE, 10(7),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 12, 2015
Publication Date Jul 2, 2015
Deposit Date Jun 14, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jul 20, 2015
Journal PLoS ONE
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 7


Published Journal Article (1.4 Mb)

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Copyright Statement
Copyright: © 2015 Negen, Nardini. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Published Journal Article (Correction) (250 Kb)

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