Academic Scholarship

Colorful success: Preschoolers’ use of perceptual color cues to solve a spatial reasoning problem

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 113, 523-534, December 2012

Photo Needed Amy S. Joh, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Leigh A. Spivey

Spatial reasoning, a crucial skill for everyday actions, develops gradually during the first several years of childhood. Previous studies have shown that perceptual information and problem solving strategies are critical for successful spatial reasoning in young children. Here, we sought to link these two factors by examining children’s use of perceptual color cues and whether their use of such cues would lead to the acquisition of a general problem solving strategy. Forty-eight 3-year-olds were asked to predict the trajectory of a ball dropped into one of three intertwined tubes. Children who received additional perceptual cues in the form of distinctly colored tubes succeeded twice as often as those who did not receive the cues. A third group of children who received the additional cues on only the first half of the test trials succeeded while the cues were present, but reverted to making errors once they were removed. These findings demonstrate that perceptual color cues provide preschoolers with answers to spatial reasoning problems, but may not teach children a general strategy for solving the problem.


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