The use of spatial language to facilitate relational encoding in 4-year-olds

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60 four year olds were shown a target square which was divided in two by colour either vertically, horizontally or diagonally. After a one second delay, they were asked to find an identical square to the target square in a test array. Seven to ten days later, children were split into 3 groups and retested; the control children completed the same task again, one experimental group heard a descriptive spatial language cue when shown the target (for example ‘yellow is on top’) and another experimental group heard and verbalised the same cue. Spatial language cues significantly improved the experimental groups’ performance compared to the control group, but this was dependent on children demonstrating a stable knowledge of the spatial language terms used. No additional benefit was found of verbalising a linguistic cue as opposed to just hearing a linguistic cue. This suggests that hearing a spatial language cue encourages children to change from a visual to a verbal strategy to encode colour location features in visual stimuli.


Lab members


  • Brigid O'Leary



Farran, E.K. & O’Leary, B. (2016). Children's ability to bind and maintain colour-location conjunctions: the effect of spatial language cues. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 28, 44-51. doi: 10.1080/20445911.2015.1092980

Research groups and centres

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

Cognition, Genes and Developmental Variability Lab 

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