The development of stable spatial categories

Start date


End date



In this project, we will determined how and when children progress from a constrained understanding of spatial relationships to a robust and flexible adult understanding. We  explored both non-linguistic and linguistic category understanding in typically developng children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old.  We then applied these research questions to individuals with Williams syndrome, for whom spatial language is known to be poor.

Comprehension of non-linguistic spatial categories: In this task nine spatial categories were investigated: on, in, under, left, right, in front, behind, above and below. For each term participants were instructed to select the odd-one-out from a display of four images, three of which represented the spatial category, and one of which displayed the opposite term,  i.e. a cat behind a box was the odd-one-out when accompanied by three cats in front of boxes. In order to determine how robust children’s spatial categories are, both prototypical and non-prototypical examples of each category were included. 

Comprehension and Production of linguistic spatial categories: This task involved the experimenter holding a pack of cards and describing the spatial location of an object on that card. The participant would in response have to choose the correct image on a computer screen out of a choice of 4. In the production task, the roles were reversed and now the participant would have to describe the spatial location and the experimenter would have to choose the correct image. Eight spatial terms were employed; in, on, above, below, in front, behind, left and right. 



Lab members


  • Lauren Willmott



Farran, E.K., Broadbent, H., Atkinson,L. (2016). Impaired spatial category represenations in Williams syndrome; an investigation of the mechanistic contributions of non-verbal cognition and spatial language performance. Frontiers in Psychology. 7. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01868

Farran, E.K., Atkinson, L. (2016). The development of spatial category representations from four to seven years. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 34, 555-568. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12149 

Research groups and centres

Our research is supported by research groups and centres of excellence.

Cognition, Genes and Developmental Variability Lab 

Research themes

Find out more about our research at Surrey: