Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Jodie M. Plumert

First Committee Member

Joseph K Kearney

Second Committee Member

Bob McMurray

Third Committee Member

Larissa K Samuelson

Fourth Committee Member

John P Spencer


The goal of this thesis is to understand how children and adults scale distance. My preliminary work has shown that young children can accurately scale distances along a single dimension (i.e., length) even when the magnitude of the scale difference is very large. In these studies, 4- and 5-year-olds and adults first saw a location marked on a narrow mat placed on the floor of one testing space. They then reproduced that location on another narrow mat that was either the same length (i.e., the memory task) or a different length (i.e., the memory + scaling task) placed on the floor of an adjacent testing space. These experiments illustrated that both children and adults had more difficulty scaling up than scaling down (i.e., had more difficulty going from a small to a large mat than from a large to a small mat).

In the present thesis, I used this difference between scaling up and scaling down as a tool to examine the processes underlying the ability to scale distance more generally. I predicted that the difficulty children and adults have scaling up can be attributed to mapping relative distances onto spaces that are too large to be viewed from a single vantage point. Experiment 1 demonstrated that although a visible boundary dividing a large space influenced how children and adults remember locations, scaling up was still more difficult than scaling down. Experiments 2 and 3 examined the influence of absolute size on mapping relative distance. When the absolute size of the test space was reduced, scaling up was no longer more difficult than scaling down. In contrast, when the absolute size was large, both scaling up and scaling down were more difficult, illustrating the importance of absolute size in using relative distance to scale. These findings suggest that when the absolute size of the space is large, children and adults have more difficulty using multiple edges of the space to accurately scale distance. More generally, these experiments underscore how the cognitive system and task structure interact to give rise to the ability to use relative distance to scale.


cognitive development, spatial memory, spatial scaling, relative distance


xi, 123 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 118-123).


Copyright 2008 Kara Marie Recker

Included in

Psychology Commons