Go Figure: Individuation vs. Configuration in Processing Spatial Arrays
16.508, Friday, May 10, 5:30 - 8:00 pm, Vista Ballroom
Amy M. Clements-Stephens1, Amy L. Shelton1; 1Johns Hopkins University
Previous studies have suggested that the strategies one employs when organizing visual-spatial information may shift during development. Specifically, prior studies indicate that adults more accurately reproduced visual-spatial arrays that promoted configural processing compared to displays that promoted individuation of elements, whereas children showed the reverse pattern. However, in hidden search tasks, when children were provided with a meaningful shape, they searched more efficiently than with random shapes, suggesting that children may prefer a configural strategy but require meaningful shape to utilize configuration (Uttal et al., 2001). The present study tested whether meaningful shape can facilitate layout reproduction of small-scale visual-spatial configurations via manipulating both the global shape (meaningful vs. random) and color (monochromatic vs. multicolored) of displays. Children 6-12 years of age and adults reproduced four different displays and we measured the degree of distortion in each reproduction. Adults showed a main effect for color (monochrome better than multicolored) and a trend for display type (meaningful better than random), indicative of a configural approach. By contrast, results for the children revealed an effect of display type (meaningful configurations less distorted than random arrays) and an interaction between display type and color. An interrogation of the interaction revealed that adding meaningful shape enhanced performance on the monochromatic condition but had no effect on the multicolored condition. Together, this finding suggests that (1) children may more naturally utilize information that promotes individuation of array elements; however, (2) meaningful shapes can confer an advantage as represented by an attenuation of the difference between monochromatic and multicolored displays for the meaningful shape condition. Overall, these results may reflect a tension between strategy use in children and that although they may not spontaneously adopt a configural strategy, when configural information is the only information conveyed it can be used to more efficiently represent visual-spatial arrays.