Skip to main content Accessibility help

The spatial foundations of the conceptual system

  • Jean M. Mandler (a1)


This article proposes that the representation of concepts in infancy is in the form of spatial image-schemas. A mechanism that simplifies spatial information is described along with a small set of spatial primitives that are sufficient to account for the conceptualizations that preverbal infants use to interpret objects and events. This early system is important to understand because it organizes the adult conceptual system of objects and events and remains its core. With development, the system becomes enriched by language in several ways, and also by means of analogical extension to non-spatial information. Nonspatial bodily information, such as feelings of force and motor activity, is also added, but remains secondary. It becomes associated with spatial representations, but except for its spatial aspects is represented in a more inchoate and less accessible fashion.


Corresponding author

Correspondence addresses: Jean Mandler, Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92093, USA. E-mail:


Hide All
Aguiar, A. & Baillargeon, R.. 2002. Developments in young infants' reasoning about occluded objects. Cognitive Psychology 45. 267336.
Arterberry, M. E. & Bornstein, M. H.. 2001. Three-month-old infants' categorization of animals and vehicles based on static and dynamic attributes. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 80. 333346.
Bahrick, L. E., Gogate, L. J. & Ruiz, I.. 2002. Attention and memory for faces and actions in infancy: The salience of actions over faces in dynamic events. Child Development 73. 16291643.
Baillargeon, R. 1986. Representing the existence and the location of hidden objects: Object permanence in 6- and 8-month-old infants. Cognition 23. 2141.
Baillargeon, R. 2004. Infants' reasoning about hidden objects: Evidence for event-general and event-specific expectations. Developmental Science 7. 391424.
Baillargeon, R., Kotovsky, L., & Needham, A.. 1995. The acquisition of physical knowledge in infancy. In Sperber, D., Premack, D., & Premack, A. J. (eds.), Causal cognition: A multi-disciplinary debate, 79116. New York: Oxford University Press.
Barsalou, L. W. 1999. Perceptual symbol systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22. 577660.
Barsalou, L. W., Simmons, W. K., Barbey, A. K. & Wilson, C. D.. 2003. Grounding conceptual knowledge in modality-specific systems. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7. 8491.
Biro, S. & Leslie, A. M.. 2007. Infants' perception of goal-directed actions: Development through cue-based bootstrapping. Developmental Science 10. 379398.
Boroditsky, L. 2000. Metaphoric structuring: Understanding time through spatial metaphors. Cognition 75. 128.
Casasanto, D. & Boroditsky, L.. 2008. Time in the mind: Using space to think about time. Cognition 106. 579593.
Casasola, M. & Cohen, L. B.. 2002. Infant spatial categorization of containment, support, or tight-fit spatial relations. Developmental Science 5. 247264.
Chen, Z., Sanchez, R. P. & Campbell, T.. 1997. From beyond to within their grasp: The rudiments of analogical problem-solving in 10- and 13-month olds. Developmental Psychology 33. 790801.
Choi, S., McDonough, L., Bowerman, M., & Mandler, J. M.. 1999. Early sensitivity to language-specific spatial categories in English and Korean. Cognitive Development 14. 241268.
Clark, H. H. 1973. Space, time, semantics, and the child. In Moore, T. E. (ed.), Cognitive development and the acquisition of language. San Diego: Academic Press.
Collie, R. & Hayne, H.. 1999. Deferred imitation by 6- and 9-month-old infants: More evidence for declarative memory. Developmental Psychobiology 35. 8390.
Csibra, G. 2008. Goal-attribution to inanimate agents by 6.5-month-old infants. Cognition 107. 705717.
Csibra, G., Gergely, G., Bíró, S., Koós, O. & Brockbank, M.. 1999. Goal attribution without agency cues: The perception of ‘pure reason’ in infancy. Cognition 72. 237267.
Evans, V. 2003. The structure of time. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Fagan, J. F. III & Singer, L. T.. 1979. The role of simple feature differences in infant recognition of faces. Infant Behavior and Development 2. 3946.
Frye, D., Rawling, P., Moore, C., & Myers, I.. 1983. Object-person discrimination and communication at 3 and 10 months. Developmental Psychology 19. 303309.
Fulkerson, A. L. & Waxman, S. R.. 2007. Words (but not tones) facilitate object categorization: Evidence from 6- and 12-month-olds. Cognition 105. 218228.
Gallese, V. & Lakof, G.. 2005. The brain's concepts: The role of the sensory-motor system in conceptual knowledge. Cognitive Neuropsychology 22. 455479.
Gentner, D. 2003. Why we're so smart. In Gentner, D. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (eds.), Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought, 195235. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gibbs, R. W. Jr. 2005. Embodiment and cognitive science. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Goswami, U. 1992. Analogical reasoning in children. Hove: Erlbaum.
Grady, J. E. 2005. Image schemas and perception: Refining a definition. In Hampe, B. (ed.), From perception to meaning: Image schemas in cognitive linguistics, 3555. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Guyau, J.-M. 1988 [1890]. The origin of the idea of time. In Michon, J. A., Pouthas, V., & Jackson, J. L. (eds.), Guyau and the idea of time. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
Hodges, J. R., Spatt, J., & Patterson, K.. 1999. ‘What’ and ‘how’: Evidence for the dissociation of object knowledge and mechanical problem-solving skills in the human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 96. 94449448.
Johnson, M. 1987. The body in the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Johnson, M. 2005. The philosophical significance of image schemas. In Hampe, B. (ed.), From perception to meaning: Image schemas in cognitive linguistics, 1534. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lakoff, G. 1987. Women, fire, and dangerous things. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M.. 1999. Philosophy in the flesh. New York: Basic Books.
Leslie, A. M. 1982. The perception of causality in infants. Perception 11. 173186.
Leslie, A. M. 1984. Infant perception of a manual pick-up event. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 2. 1932.
Luo, Y. & Baillargeon, R.. 2005a. Can a self-propelled box have a goal?: Psychological reasoning in 5-month-old infants. Psychological Science 16. 601608.
Luo, Y. & Baillargeon, R.. 2005b. When the ordinary seems unexpected: Evidence for incremental physical knowledge in young infants. Cognition 95. 297328.
Mandler, J. M. 1992. How to build a baby II: Conceptual primitives. Psychological Review 99. 587604.
Mandler, J. M. 2004. The foundations of mind: Origins of conceptual thought. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mandler, J. M. 2005. How to build a baby III: Image-schemas and the transition to verbal thought. In Hampe, B. (ed.), From perception to meaning: Image schemas in cognitive linguistics, 137164. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Mandler, J. M. 2008. On the birth and growth of concepts. Philosophical Psychology 21. 207230.
Mandler, J. M., Fivush, R., & Reznick, J. S.. 1987. The development of contextual categories. Cognitive Development 2. 339354.
Mandler, J. M. & McDonough, L.. 1993. Concept formation in infancy. Cognitive Development 8. 291318.
Mandler, J. M. & McDonough, L.. 1996. Drinking and driving don't mix: Inductive generalization in infancy. Cognition 59. 307335.
Mandler, J. M. & McDonough, L.. 1998a. On developing a knowledge base in infancy. Developmental Psychology 34. 12741288.
Mandler, J. M. & McDonough, L.. 1998b. Studies in inductive inference in infancy. Cognitive Psychology 37. 6096.
Mandler, J. M. & McDonough, L.. 2000. Advancing downward to the basic level. Journal of Cognition & Development 1. 379404.
Mareschal, D., Powell, D., & Volein, A.. 2003. Basic-level category discriminations by 7- and 9-month-olds in an object examination task. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 86. 87107.
McDonough, L. 1999. Early declarative memory for location. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 17. 381402.
McDonough, L. 2002. Basic-level nouns: First learned but misunderstood. Journal of Child Language 29. 357377.
McDonough, L., Choi, S., & Mandler, J. M.. 2003. Understanding spatial relations: Flexible infants, lexical adults. Cognitive Psychology 46. 229259.
Michotte, A. E. 1963. The perception of causality. London: Methuen.
Negri, G. A. L., Rumiati, R. I., Zadini, A., Ukmar, M., Mahon, B. Z. & Caramazza, A.. 2007. What is the role of motor simulation in action and object recognition? Evidence from apraxia. Cognitive Neuropsychology 24. 795816.
Newcombe, N., Huttenlocher, J., & Learmonth, A.. 1999. Infants' encoding of location in continuous space. Infant Behavior and Development 22. 483510.
Patterson, K. & Hodges, J. R.. 1995. Disorders of semantic memory. In Baddeley, A. D., Wilson, B. A. & Watts, F. N. (eds.), Handbook of memory disorders, 167186. London: Wiley.
Pauen, S. 2000. Early diferentiation within the animate domain: Are humans something special? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 75. 134151.
Pauen, S. 2002. The global-to-basic level shift in infants' categorical thinking: First evidence from a longitudinal study. International Journal of Behavioral Development 26. 492499.
Pauen, S. & Träuble, B.. 2009. How 7-month-olds interpret ambiguous motion events: Category-based reasoning in infancy. Cognitive Psychology 59. 275295.
Pavlova, M., Staudt, M., Sokolov, S. A., Birbaumer, N., & Krägeloh-Mann, I.. 2003. Perception and production of biological movement in patients with early periventricular brain lesions. Brain 126. 692701.
Pecher, D., Zeelenberg, R., & Barsalou, L. W.. 2003. Verifying diferent-modality properties for concepts produces switching costs. Psychological Science 14. 119124.
Perone, S., Madole, K. L., Ross-Sheehy, S., Carey, M., & Oakes, L. M.. 2008. The relation between infants' activity with objects and attention to object appearance. Developmental Psychology 44. 12421248.
Pulvermüller, F. 2005. Brain mechanisms linking language and action. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience 6. 576582.
Quinn, P. C. 2003. Concepts are not just for objects: Categorization of spatial relation information by infants. In Rakison, D. R. & Oakes, L. M. (eds.), Early category and concept development, 5076. New York: Oxford University Press.
Quinn, P. C., Eimas, P. D. & Rosenkrantz, S. L.. 1993. Evidence for representations of perceptually similar natural categories by 3-month-old and 4-month-old infants. Perception 22. 463475.
Richardson, D. C., Spivey, J. M., Barsalou, L. W. & McRae, K.. 2003. Spatial representations activated during real-time comprehension of verbs. Cognitive Science 27. 767780.
Roberson, D., Davidof, J., Davies, I. R. L. & Shapiro, L. R.. 2005. Color categories: Evidence for the cultural relativity hypothesis. Cognitive Psychology 50. 378411.
Rochat, P., Morgan, R., & Carpenter, M.. 1997. Young infants' sensitivity to movement information specifying social causality. Cognitive Development 12. 537561.
Rogers, T. T. & McClelland, J. L.. 2004. Semantic cognition: A parallel distributed processing approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Rüschemeyer, S.-A., Brass, M., & Friederici, A. D.. 2007. Comprehending: Neural correlates of processing verbs with motor stems. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 195. 855865.
Slater, A. 1989. Visual memory and perception in early infancy. In Slater, A. & Bremner, G. (eds.), Infant development, 4371. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Spelke, E. S., Breinlinger, K., Macomber, J., & Jacobson, K.. 1992. Origins of knowledge. Psychological Review 99. 605632.
Spelke, E. S. & Hespos, S. J.. 2002. Conceptual development in infancy: The case of containment. In Stein, N. L., Bauer, P., & Rabinowitz, M. (eds.), Representation, memory, and development: Essays in honor of Jean Mandler, 223246. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Squire, L. R. 1987. Memory and brain. New York: Oxford University Press.
Talmy, L. 1988. Force dynamics in language and cognition. Cognitive Science 12. 49100.
Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T., & Moll, H.. 2005. Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28. 675735.
Warrington, E. K. & McCarthy, R.. 1987. Categories of knowledge: Further fractionations and an attempted integration. Brain 110. 12731296.
White, P. A. 1988. Causal processing: Origins and development. Psychological Bulletin 104. 3652.
Willatts, P. 1997. Beyond the ‘couch potato’ infant: How infants use their knowledge to regulate action, solve problems, and achieve goals. In Bremner, G., Slater, A., & Butterworth, G. (eds.), Infant development: Recent advances, 109135. Hove: Psychology Press.
Woodward, A. L. 1998. Infants selectively encode the goal object of an actor's reach. Cognition 69. 134.
Woodward, A. L. 1999. Infants' ability to distinguish between purposeful and non-purposeful behaviors. Infant Behavior and Development 22. 145160.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed