The role of landmarks and boundaries in the development of spatial memory.
Bullens J., Nardini M., Doeller CF., Braddick O., Postma A., Burgess N.
It has been suggested that learning an object's location relative to (1) intramaze landmarks and (2) local boundaries is supported by parallel striatal and hippocampal systems, both of which rely upon input from a third system for orientation. However, little is known about the developmental trajectories of these systems' contributions to spatial learning. The present study tested 5- and 7-year-old children and adults on a water maze-like task in which all three types of cue were available. Participants had to remember the location of an object hidden in a circular bounded environment containing a moveable intramaze landmark and surrounded by distal cues. Children performed less accurately than adults, and showed a different pattern of error. While adults relied most on the stable cue provided by the boundary, children relied on both landmark and boundary cues similarly, suggesting a developmental increase in the weighting given to boundary cues. Further, adults were most accurate in coding angular information (dependent on distal cues), whereas children were most accurate in coding distance, suggesting a developing ability to use distal cues to orient. These results indicate that children as young as 5 years use boundary, intramaze landmark, and distal visual cues in parallel, but that the basic accuracy and relative weighting of these cues changes during subsequent development.