Language unifies relational coding: The roles of label acquisition and accessibility in making flexible relational judgments

Nicole M. Scott, Maria D. Sera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Language is likely structuring spatial judgments, but how it achieves this is not clear. We examined the ability to make relative, spatial judgments across verbal and nonverbal tasks of above, below, right and left in children between the ages of 5 and 10 years. We found that the verbal ability to make above/below judgments preceded verbal right/left judgments and all nonverbal judgments. We also found that only when the labels were accessed – as opposed to only having been acquired – did children's nonverbal performance improve. Our findings further indicate that accessing the correct term was not needed for enhanced performance. The results suggest that accessing language unifies different instantiations of a relation into a single representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-152
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was in part made possible through the University of Minnesota Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship and Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship , as well as an NIH training grant ( T32 HD007151 ) awarded to N.M.S. We thank the families who participated and B. Khalif, A. Hahn, Z. Vang, T.Hermandson-Olson, Y.Y. Cheung, P. Vang, K. Solko, E. Walsh, H. Nauth and T. Xiong for their assistance with conducting the study. We thank A. Georgopoulos for his comments on our manuscript and M. Chafee and D. Boeff for the assistance in the nonverbal task design. Declarations of interest: none.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Inc.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cognitive development
  • Entrenchment in language development
  • Language accessibility
  • Language acquisition
  • Relational terms
  • Spatial relations

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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