Golledge Lecture 2021
Dr. Nora S. Newcombe
Professor, Psychology Department
Nora S. Newcombe, Ph.D., is a Laura H. Carnell professor of Psychology at Temple University. Dr. Newcombe was educated at Antioch College, where she graduated with a major in psychology in 1972, and at Harvard University, where she received her P.D. in Psychology and Social Relations in 1976. She taught previously at Penn State University. Her research in cognition and cognitive development has centered on spatial cognition and on episodic memory, along with translational work on STEM education. She served as the PI of the NSF-funded Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC) from 2006-2018, headquartered at Temple and involving Northwestern, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania as primary partners. Dr. Newcombe currently serves as Past President of the Federation of Associations in Brain and Behavioral Sciences (FABBS), as President of the International Mind Brain Education Society (IMBES), as Editor of Psychological Science in the Public Interest and as Associate Editor of Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.
In this talk, I will present an approach to the development of navigation over childhood that differs from both Piagetian and nativists account. In brief, I argue that spatial development builds on important beginnings in the neural systems of newborns, but changes in experience-expectant ways with motor development, action in the world, and success-failure feedback. Babies rapidly acquire motor skills that give them increasingly independent and wide-ranging access to the environment; over the first two years of human life, they decrease their reliance on habit systems for spatial localization, switching to their emerging inertial navigation system and to allocentric frameworks. Initial place learning is evident towards the end of the period. From 3 to 10 years, children calibrate their ability to encode various sources of spatial information (inertial information, geometric cues, beacons, proximal landmarks, and distal landmarks) and begin to combine cues, both within and across systems. Geometric cues are important, but do not constitute an innate and encapsulated module. In addition, from 3 to 10 years, children build the capacity to think about frames of reference different from their current one (i.e. to perform perspective taking). Change is substantial but not stage-like. By around 12 years, we see adult-level performance and adult patterns of individual differences on cognitive mapping tasks requiring the integration of vista views of space into environmental space. Human systems for integrating and manipulating spatial information also benefit from symbolic capacities and technological inventions.