British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Visualization instructions enhance preschoolers’ spatial problem‐solving

This study explores whether verbal instructions to visualize an event can improve children's ability to make predictions about a difficult spatial problem. Three‐year‐olds (= 48) were introduced to two intertwined tubes, and prior to predicting how a ball would travel through a given tube, one group of children was told to imagine the ball rolling down the tube, one group was told an explicit rule about where the ball would land, and a third group was given no instructions. Children were prevented from interacting with the apparatus to investigate the effect of the different verbal instructions alone on their problem‐solving. Children in the imagine condition made more correct predictions than both children who received no instructions and those who were told an explicit rule (but were not told to visualize). These results suggest that verbal instructions to imagine an event are enough to help children solve difficult spatial problems, likely by visualizing the outcome prior to making a prediction.

What is already known on this subject?

  • Preschoolers exhibit a gravity bias when predicting how objects will travel through several intertwined tubes (Hood, 1995, Cogn. Dev., 10, 577).
  • Preschoolers can overcome this gravity bias when they are first told to look at (Bascandziev & Harris, , Cogn. Dev., 25, 233) or visualize (Joh et al., 2011, Child Dev., 82, 744) the tubes.
  • This work emphasized the role of visualization in improving children's ability to solve this difficult spatial problem.

What does this study add?

  • Previous work typically allowed children to interact directly with the apparatus during familiarization or while making predictions.
  • Previous work did not consider whether a synergy between physical interaction and visualization instructions improved predictions.
  • The current study shows that visualization instructions alone can improve children's ability to overcome the gravity bias.

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