Aligning body and world: Stable reference frames improve young children's search for hidden objects

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This study investigated how young children's increasingly flexible use of spatial reference frames enables accurate search for hidden objects by using a task that 3-year-olds have been shown to perform with great accuracy and 2-year-olds have been shown to perform inaccurately. Children watched as an object was rolled down a ramp, behind a panel of doors, and stopped at a barrier visible above the doors. In two experiments, we gave 2- and 2.5-year-olds a strong reference frame by increasing the relative salience and stability of the barrier. In Experiment 1, 2.5-year-olds performed at above-chance levels with the more salient barrier. In Experiment 2, we highlighted the stability of the barrier (or ramp) by maximizing the spatial extent of each reference frame across the first four training trials. Children who were given a stable barrier (and moving ramp) during these initial trials performed at above-chance levels and significantly better than children who were given a stable ramp (and moving barrier). This work highlights that factors central to spatial cognition and motor planning-aligning egocentric and object-centered reference frames-play a role in the ramp task during this transitional phase in development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-455
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


  • Child (Preschool)
  • Cognition
  • Concept Formation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Space Perception

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