The Role of Intentionality and Iconicity in Children’s Developing Comprehension and Production of Cartographic Symbols


  • Portions of the data reported here were collected in partial fulfillment of a master’s thesis conducted by the first author under the supervision of the second author. The authors are grateful to the parents and children who volunteered their time to participate and thank Elisabeth Sultzbaugh, Kelli Hoffa, Michelle Ricketts, Ashley Yuhouse, Erin Plute, Damian Liska, Jennifer Lyons, Lauren Biga, Danielle Russell, Adam Christensen, and Mike Kilcoyne for their help with participant recruitment, stimuli design, data collection, coding, and entry. They also thank Ulrich Mueller, Rick Gilmore, Richard Carlson, and Steven Jax for their many helpful suggestions. This work was funded in part by National Science Foundation Grant ESI 01-01758 awarded to Lynn Liben and by Penn State Psychology Department grants from the Bruce V. Moore Fund and the Child Study Center’s Faris Endowment awarded to Lauren Myers. No endorsement of this research by any funding agency or source is implied. Portions of this research were presented at the meetings of the American Psychological Society in 2004, Society for Research in Child Development in 2005, Jean Piaget Society in 2006, and Cognitive Development Society in 2007.

concerning this article should be addressed to Lauren J. Myers, Department of Psychology, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, or to Lynn S. Liben, Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. Electronic mail may be sent to or to


The contribution of intentionality understanding to symbolic development was examined. Actors added colored dots to a map, displaying either symbolic or aesthetic intentions. In Study 1, most children (5–6 years) understood actors’ intentions, but when asked which graphic would help find hidden objects, most selected the incorrect (aesthetic) one whose dot color matched referent color. On a similar task in Study 2, 5- and 6-year-olds systematically picked incorrectly, 9- and 10-year-olds picked correctly, and 7- and 8-year-olds showed mixed performance. When referent color matched neither symbolic nor aesthetic dot colors, children performed better overall, but only the oldest children universally selected the correct graphic and justified choices with intentionality. Results bear on theory of mind, symbolic understanding, and map understanding.