Generality with specificity: the dynamic field theory generalizes across tasks and time scales


Address for correspondence: Vanessa R. Simmering, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, E11 Seashore Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA; e-mail:


A central goal in cognitive and developmental science is to develop models of behavior that can generalize across both tasks and development while maintaining a commitment to detailed behavioral prediction. This paper presents tests of one such model, the Dynamic Field Theory (DFT). The DFT was originally proposed to capture delay-dependent biases in spatial recall and developmental changes in spatial recall performance. More recently, the theory was generalized to adults’ performance in a second spatial working memory task, position discrimination. Here we use the theory to predict a specific, complex developmental pattern in position discrimination. Data with 3- to 6-year-old children and adults confirm these predictions, demonstrating that the DFT achieves generality across tasks and time scales, as well as the specificity necessary to generate novel, falsifiable predictions.