The Spatial Coding Strategies of One-Year-Old Infants in a Locomotor Search Task


  • This research was supported by an Australian Research Council grant to the second author. A portion of the research was presented at the International Conference on Infant Studies in Montreal, April 1990. We thank the parents and staff from Bundoora, Diamond Valley, Eltham, Epping, Greensborough, Heidelberg, Preston West, Macleod, Mill Park, Northcote, Research, Rosanna, Summerhill, Watsonia, and Whittlesea Maternal and Child Health Centers for their cooperation and Helen Skouteris for research assistance.

Requests for reprints should be addressed to either E. W. Bushnell, Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, or B. E. McKenzie, School of Psychology, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia 3083.


The ability of 1-year-old infants to remember the location of a nonvisible target was investigated in 3 experiments. Infants searched for a toy hidden in one of many possible locations within a circular bounded space. The presence, number, and spatial arrangement of local cues or “landmarks” within this space were varied. The results of Experiment 1 showed that search performance was highly successful when a landmark was coincident with the location of the toy (“direct”), but less successful when a landmark was adjacent to the target location (“indirect”). The results of Experiment 2 suggested that search with an indirect landmark may be more fragile than search with no landmarks at all. In Experiments 3a and 3b, 2 different configurations of indirect landmarks were employed; search performance was equally poor with both of these and was inferior to search with no landmarks. It is concluded that infants of this age are able to associate a nonvisible target with a direct landmark and are able to code the distance and direction of a target with respect to themselves or with respect to the larger framework. However, there was no evidence that they can code the distance and direction of a target relative to another object. The difficulty of coding with indirect landmarks is interpreted in terms of cognitive complexity and conflict between spatial strategies.