What is it about?

People tend to respond faster and/or more accurately to stimuli referring to big entities, such as the word "elephant", when a right response is required. In contrast, stimuli referring to small entities, such as a the word "ant', are responded to faster and/or more accurately when a left response is required. Similar effects have been found for stimulus features that do not refer to the typical size of objects. For example, right and left responses are faster and/or more accurate when emitted in the presence of stimuli refer to living (e.g., animals) and non-living (e.g., buildings) entities. In the present study we replicate these effects with Italian primary school children (3rd-to-5th graders) by using two tasks: a task in which the participant had to judge the size of objects depicted by target pictures and a task in which the participant had to judge their semantic categories (living vs. non-living) . In both tasks, only the stimulus task-relevant feature had an effect (e.g., the typical size did not have an effect when participants judged the stimulus semantic category and vice versa). Children’s’ age did not modulate the observed effects.

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Why is it important?

Conceptual spatial effects are thought to provide important insights into the underlying mental representations of stimulus meaning. Accordingly, research on the developmental trajectories of such effects, might help the understanding of how stimulus semantics develops. These effects have been extensively investigated in the number domain. However, no studies to date have evaluated the possible occurrence in children of effects of the compatibility between response position and magnitude information other than the numerical one. The analysis of possible developmental trends of such non-numerical compatibility effects not only can shed light on the development of the underlying cognitive processes, but can also help us understand the nature of the phenomena themselves, that is, whether these effects are inherently verbal (i.e., they depend on the linguistic labels - e.g., default vs. non default- that are applied to stimuli and responses) or spatial (i.e., they depend on how response and stimulus features, such as the typical size, are spatially represented). The comparison between conditions in which these stimulus features were relevant to the task and conditions in which they were task-irrelevant allowed us to contrast the hypothesis that spatial representations of non-numerical magnitude dimensions of these stimuli are automatically activated as an intrinsic part of stimulus semantics with the idea that the mental representations underlying these compatibility phenomena are driven by task-related factors.


see our project on https://www.researchgate.net/project/Conceptual-compatibility-effects

Barbara Treccani
Universita degli Studi di Trento

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Compatibility between response position and either object typical size or semantic category: SNARC- and MARC-like effects in primary school children, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, January 2020, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2019.104682.
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