Coding location in enclosed spaces: is geometry the principle?


Address for correspondence: Janellen Huttenlocher, 5848 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, USA; e-mail:


Both animals and human toddlers can find an object in a rectangular enclosure after they have been disoriented. They use geometric cues (relative lengths of walls) to discriminate among different corners (e.g. long wall to the left, short to the right). It has been claimed that this ability is ‘modular’, i.e. exclusively geometric. The present study demonstrates that the ability toddlers exhibit is a more general one, namely, an ability to discriminate relative quantity. Using a square enclosure, we show that toddlers use the relative sizes of the figures on different walls to characterize different corners. We also show that they do not use simple non-relative features to distinguish different corners. Possible reasons for differences in the ability to use relative versus non-relative cues are discussed.