Mental Transformation Skill in Young Children: The Role of Concrete and Abstract Motor Training

Susan C. Levine, Susan Goldin-Meadow, Matthew T. Carlson, Naureen Hemani-Lopez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


We examined the effects of three different training conditions, all of which involve the motor system, on kindergarteners’ mental transformation skill. We focused on three main questions. First, we asked whether training that involves making a motor movement that is relevant to the mental transformation—either concretely through action (action training) or more abstractly through gestural movements that represent the action (move-gesture training)—resulted in greater gains than training using motor movements irrelevant to the mental transformation (point-gesture training). We tested children prior to training, immediately after training (posttest), and 1 week after training (retest), and we found greater improvement in mental transformation skill in both the action and move-gesture training conditions than in the point-gesture condition, at both posttest and retest. Second, we asked whether the total gain made by retest differed depending on the abstractness of the movement-relevant training (action vs. move-gesture), and we found that it did not. Finally, we asked whether the time course of improvement differed for the two movement-relevant conditions, and we found that it did—gains in the action condition were realized immediately at posttest, with no further gains at retest; gains in the move-gesture condition were realized throughout, with comparable gains from pretest-to-posttest and from posttest-to-retest. Training that involves movement, whether concrete or abstract, can thus benefit children's mental transformation skill. However, the benefits unfold differently over time—the benefits of concrete training unfold immediately after training (online learning); the benefits of more abstract training unfold in equal steps immediately after training (online learning) and during the intervening week with no additional training (offline learning). These findings have implications for the kinds of instruction that can best support spatial learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1207-1228
Number of pages22
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


Dive into the research topics of 'Mental Transformation Skill in Young Children: The Role of Concrete and Abstract Motor Training'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this