Developmental profiles for multiple object tracking and spatial memory: Typically developing preschoolers and people with Williams syndrome

Kirsten O'Hearn, James E. Hoffman, Barbara Landau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to track moving objects, a crucial skill for mature performance on everyday spatial tasks, has been hypothesized to require a specialized mechanism that may be available in infancy (i.e. indexes). Consistent with the idea of specialization, our previous work showed that object tracking was more impaired than a matched spatial memory task in individuals with Williams syndrome (WS), a genetic disorder characterized by severe visuo-spatial impairment. We now ask whether this unusual pattern of performance is a reflection of general immaturity or of true abnormality, possibly reflecting the atypical brain development in WS. To examine these two possibilities, we tested typically developing 3- and 4-year-olds and people with WS on multiple object tracking (MOT) and memory for static spatial location. The maximum number of objects that could be correctly tracked or remembered (estimated from the k-statistic) showed similar developmental profiles in typically developing 3- and 4-year-old children, but the WS profile differed from either age group. People with WS could track more objects than 3-year-olds, and the same number as 4-year-olds, but they could remember the locations of more static objects than both 3- and 4-year-olds. Combining these data with those from our previous studies, we found that typically developing children show increases in the number of objects they can track or remember between the ages of 3 and 6, and these increases grow in parallel across the two tasks. In contrast, object tracking in older children and adults with WS remains at the level of 4-year-olds, whereas the ability to remember multiple locations of static objects develops further. As a whole, the evidence suggests that MOT and memory for static location develop in tandem typically, but not in WS. Atypical development of the parietal lobe in people with WS could play a causal role in the abnormal, uneven pattern of performance in WS. This interpretation is consistent with the idea that multiple object tracking engages different mechanisms from those involved in memory for static object location, and that the former can be particularly disrupted by atypical development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-440
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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