Koleen McCrink headshot


On December 8, 2022, Koleen McCrink, professor of psychology at Barnard College, published new co-authored research in the Journal of Cognition and Development, “Ordinality and Verbal Framing Influence Preschoolers’ Memory for Spatial Structure.” The paper examines a unique period in childhood development during which there is a  reshaping of mental number lines and increased sensitivity to social norms.

McCrink and her colleagues analyzed data from American and Israeli children aged 4-5 years old who recreated a sequence of numbers (1-5), letters (A-E), or colors (red–blue, the first colors of the rainbow) in a specific order after observing an experimenter’s demonstration. The study included three different groups: a control group in which the experimenter did not demonstrate laying out the chips, a treatment group in which the experimenter emphasized the process of left-right or right-left spatial layout, and a treatment group in which the experimenter used general goal language.

The researchers found that attention to the spatial structuring of the environment was influenced by conventional framing, and children exhibited better recall if the manner of the layout was emphasized during treatment compared to when it was not. The results also indicate that the children could recall numerical information with greater accuracy relative to non-numerical information and that American children’s tendency to recall numerical direction information predicted their early numeracy ability.