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Spatial language facilitates spatial cognition: Evidence from children who lack language input

Gentner, D., Ozyurek, A., Gurcanli, O., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2013). Spatial language facilitates spatial cognition: Evidence from children who lack language input. Cognition, 127, 318-330. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.01.003.
Does spatial language influence how people think about space? To address this question, we observed children who did not know a conventional language, and tested their performance on nonlinguistic spatial tasks. We studied deaf children living in Istanbul whose hearing losses prevented them from acquiring speech and whose hearing parents had not exposed them to sign. Lacking a conventional language, the children used gestures, called homesigns, to communicate. In Study 1, we asked whether homesigners used gesture to convey spatial relations, and found that they did not. In Study 2, we tested a new group of homesigners on a Spatial Mapping Task, and found that they performed significantly worse than hearing Turkish children who were matched to the deaf children on another cognitive task. The absence of spatial language thus went hand-in-hand with poor performance on the nonlinguistic spatial task, pointing to the importance of spatial language in thinking about space.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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