Plasticity of human spatial cognition: spatial language and cognition covary across cultures

Daniel Haun, C. Rapold, G. Janzen, S. Levinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present paper explores cross-cultural variation in spatial cognition by comparing spatial reconstruction tasks by Dutch and Namibian elementary school children. These two communities differ in the way they predominantly express spatial relations in language. Four experiments investigate cognitive strategy preferences across different levels of task-complexity and instruction. Data show a correlation between dominant linguistic spatial frames of reference and performance patterns in non-linguistic spatial memory tasks. This correlation is shown to be stable across an increase of complexity in the spatial array. When instructed to use their respective non-habitual cognitive strategy, participants were not easily able to switch between strategies and their attempts to do so impaired their performance. These results indicate a difference not only in preference but also in competence and suggest that spatial language and non-linguistic preferences and competences in spatial cognition are systematically aligned across human populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-80
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


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