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Jeffrey J. Lockman, Nicholas E. Fears, and Emily A. Lewis

Spatial ability is manifest across different psychological domains, including perception, action, and cognition. The development of spatial understanding originates in the perception-action skills of infants. When infants act on the world, either during object manipulation or locomotion, one may begin to glean the foundations of older children’s and adults’ efforts to think, reason, and solve problems more symbolically and abstractly. Even during infancy, different actions, such as reaching and locomotion, may incur different spatial demands, requiring infants to use spatial information flexibly. In the preschool years and beyond, as symbolic skills become more developed, children’s spatial abilities become more abstract, which are reflected in their abilities to think about the layout of environments and to use maps to learn about environments. Besides differences in spatial ability as a function of developmental level, individual differences in spatial ability have also been documented as a function of gender, daily experience, and blindness. Collectively, research on individual differences in spatial development suggests that training procedures can reduce differences in spatial skill that may arise in different individuals. Finally, to understand spatial development more fully, research is needed on the neural bases of spatial development, cross-cultural differences in spatial development, and the impact of technology on spatial behavior.


Eli Brenner and Jeroen B. J. Smeets

The way we see the world seems perfect, but it is not. What we see at any moment is based on a very limited part of the information that is available to us, and even details of that part are not always judged correctly. Moreover, perception is often inconsistent. There are persistent idiosyncratic discrepancies between visual and haptic spatial judgments. Even within the visual modality, related attributes such as size and position can be judged in a manner that is inconsistent with the physical relationship between them. People deal with all these differences and inconsistencies by selecting the best attributes to rely on for the task at hand and updating the information whenever possible. Doing so is presumably responsible for people’s proficiency in interacting with their environment, even when faced with the constantly changing spatial relationships with objects in the environment that result from using tools or that arise from the observer or the object moving. The best information to use depends not only on the goal of the action but also on how quickly and how reliably information can be acquired. This makes it complicated to make general claims about spatial vision for action, but it also provides unique opportunities to determine which attributes are used to guide our actions and evaluate why. Such opportunities can be used to identify the attributes that are used to perform a task, for instance revealing that judgments of position rather than size are used to determine how far to open one’s grip when grasping an object. They can also be used to determine how information guides ongoing movements, showing that judgments of position are continuously updated rather than inferred from judged motion. It is evident that we still have a lot to learn about how spatial vision guides action.