Development of bilateral parietal activation for complex visual-spatial function: Evidence from a visual-spatial construction task

Katrina Ferrara, Anna Seydell-Greenwald, Catherine E. Chambers, Elissa L. Newport, Barbara Landau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The neural representation of visual-spatial functions has traditionally been ascribed to the right hemisphere, but little is known about these representations in children, including whether and how lateralization of function changes over the course of development. Some studies suggest bilateral activation early in life that develops toward right-lateralization in adulthood, while others find evidence of right-hemispheric dominance in both children and adults. We used a complex visual-spatial construction task to examine the nature of lateralization and its developmental time course in children ages 5–11 years. Participants were shown two puzzle pieces and were asked whether the pieces could fit together to make a square; responses required either mental translation of the pieces (Translation condition) or both mental translation and rotation of the pieces (Rotation condition). Both conditions were compared to a matched Luminance control condition that was similar in terms of visual content and difficulty but required no spatial analysis. Group and single-subject analyses revealed that the Rotation and Translation conditions elicited strongly bilateral activation in the same parietal and occipital locations as have been previously found for adults. These findings show that visual-spatial construction consistently elicits robust bilateral activation from age 5 through adulthood. This challenges the idea that spatial functions are all right-lateralized, either during early development or in adulthood. More generally, these findings provide insights into the developmental course of lateralization across different spatial skills and how this may be influenced by the computational requirements of the particular functions involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13067
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • child development
  • construction task
  • fMRI
  • lateralization
  • mental rotation
  • parietal lobe
  • visual-spatial function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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