The Development of Memory for Location: What Role Do Spatial Prototypes Play?



Two experiments investigated the role of spatial prototypes in estimates of location. In Experiment 1 (N= 144), children and adults learned the locations of 20 objects in an open, square box designed to look like a model house. In two conditions, opaque lines or walls divided the house into four regions, and in the other condition, no boundaries were present. Following learning, the dots marking the locations were removed, and participants attempted to replace the objects. Children and adults overestimated distances between target locations in different regions. Contrary to Huttenlocher, Hedges, and Duncan's hierarchical theory of spatial memory, none of the groups displaced the objects toward the region centers. In Experiment 2 (N == 96), boundaries were removed during testing to determine whether children and adults were more likely to displace objects toward region centers when uncertainty about location increased. Again, all age groups overestimated distances between target objects in different regions. In addition, adults and 11-year-olds in the most salient boundary condition displaced objects toward the region centers. Discussion focuses on the implications of these results for understanding how children and adults estimate location.