Conflicting cues in a dynamic search task are reflected in children's eye movements and search errors


  • JMH is now at the Department of Health and Kinesiology, Purdue University; HK is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati; RK is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Virginia.

Address for correspondence: Rachel Keen, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 400400, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA; e-mail:


Three-year-olds were given a search task with conflicting cues about the target's location. A ball rolled behind a transparent screen and stopped behind one of four opaque doors mounted into the screen. A wall that protruded above one door provided a visible cue of blockage in the ball's path, while the transparent screen allowed visual tracking of the ball's progress to its last disappearance. On some trials these cues agreed and on others they conflicted. One group saw the ball appear to pass through the wall, violating its solidity, and another group saw the ball stop early, behind a door before the visual wall. Children's eye movements were recorded with an Applied Science Laboratories eye tracker during these real object events. On congruent trials, children tended to track the ball to the visible barrier and select that door. During conflict trials, children's eye movements and reaching errors reflected the type of conflict they experienced. Our data support Scholl and Leslie's (1999) hypotheses that spatio-temporal and contact mechanical knowledge are based on two separate, distinct mechanisms.