Spatial Ability in Infancy Predicts Spatial and Mathematical Competence at Preschool Age Open Access

Lauer, Jillian (2015)

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From using tools to reading maps and deciphering diagrams, activities that are essential to everyday functioning often require us to form, transform, and rotate mental representations of objects and spatial layouts. The ability to perform such transformations, often measured via mental rotation tasks, is a hallmark of visuospatial reasoning and has been shown to predict math achievement as early as preschool age. Research suggests that mental rotation processes emerge even earlier in development, however, with infants exhibiting considerable individual differences in performance on implicit mental rotation tasks. Nevertheless, little is known about the origins of inter-individual variation in these abilities or the cognitive processes that underlie associations among spatial and mathematical cognition. Here, we adopted a longitudinal design to investigate the stability of individual differences in mental rotation abilities between infancy and preschool age and to examine the role of early visuospatial processes in later mathematical competence. Between 6 and 13 months of age, 53 infants completed a spatial change detection task designed to assess mental rotation abilities. At 4 years of age, these children completed a battery of tasks that measured various aspects of spatial and quantitative reasoning as well as general cognitive abilities. We found that performance on the spatial change detection task in infancy significantly predicted both spatial and mathematical aptitude at 4 years of age as measured by performance on a widely used mental transformation task and a standardized math test. This predictive relation could not be attributed to general cognitive abilities, such as working memory and processing speed, or to verbal competence. Our findings demonstrate developmental continuity in visuospatial processing between infancy and preschool age and suggest that primitive spatial processes present in the first year of life serve as precursors to later spatial and mathematical reasoning.

Table of Contents

Title Page, 1

Abstract, 2

List of Tables , 4

List of Figures, 5

Introduction, 6

Method, 10

Results, 15

Discussion, 18

Tables, 23

Figures, 27

References, 30

Appendix A, 39

Appendix B, 50

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