The developmental trajectories of children's reorientation to global and local properties of environmental geometry

Matthew G Buckley, Luke J Holden, Alastair D Smith, Mark Haselgrove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The way in which organisms represent the shape of their environments during navigation has been debated in cognitive, comparative, and developmental psychology. While there is evidence that adult humans encode the entire boundary shape of an environment (a global-shape representation), there are also data demonstrating that organisms reorient using only segments of the boundary that signal a goal location (a local-shape representation). Developmental studies offer unique insights into this debate; however, most studies have used designs that cannot dissociate the type of boundary-shape representation that children use to guide reorientation. Thus, we examined the developmental trajectories of children's reorientation according to local and global boundary shape. Participants aged 6-12 years were trained to find a goal hidden in one corner of a virtual arena, after which they were required to reorient in a novel test arena. From 10.5 years, children performed above chance when the test arena permitted reorientation based only on local-shape (Experiment 2), or only global-shape (Experiment 3) information. Moreover, when these responses were placed into conflict, older children reoriented with respect to global-shape information (Experiment 4). These age-related findings were not due to older children being better able to reorient in virtual environments per se: when trained and tested within the same environment (Experiment 1), children performed above chance from 6 years. Together, our results suggest (a) the ability to reorient on the basis of global- and local-shape representations develops in parallel, and (b) shape-based information is weighted to determine which representation informs reorientation. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Early online date4 Aug 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Author(s). This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish the article and identify itself as the original publisher.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council(ES/I021108/1), and contributed to Luke J. Holden’s doctorate degree by funding a studentship.


  • Spatial cognition
  • Reorientation
  • Development
  • Geometry
  • Navigation


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