One of the most impressive human skills is the ability to represent and mentally transform objects and their properties. This ability is crucial for basic cognitive tasks such as object recognition, but also vital for making predictions and anticipating movement in our spatial environment. For example, we need to anticipate the future position of objects to avoid collisions or to plan actions when manipulating objects or using tools. Yet, spatial mental transformation skills are not only interesting in and of themselves – they have often been considered as “mental building blocks” for other skills. Moreover, the ability to think about spatial magnitudes and their proportions may be foundational for the understanding of numerical magnitudes and mathematical concepts. Thus, spatial skills may also have important translational implications for education and professional success in modern societies.
In our research, we are specifically interested in answering the questions of how spatial and representational abilities develop, how they are influenced by motor development and physical activity, and whether they are foundational for other cognitive abilities, such as numerical or mathematical skills. We investigate these topics in a broad age range, from infants to adults, and by employing various methodologies: By using experimental approaches, we investigate how motor development and physical activity affects cognitive performance. By using eye-tracking technology, we examine young children’s eye movements when observing or imagining dynamic events. By designing nonverbal tests that are suitable for young children, we develop new assessment tools to study these abilities at a young age. By means of longitudinal designs, we try to gain insight into long-term consequences of early spatial and motor abilities for successful development and academic performance.